Archive for February, 2011

Two Bradford International Film Festival Screenings of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” March 26 and 27, 2011

“‘Outside the Law’ is a powerful film that has helped ensure that Guantánamo and the men unlawfully held there have not been forgotten.”
Kate Allen, Director, Amnesty International UK

“[T]his is a strong movie examining the imprisonment and subsequent torture of those falsely accused of anti-American conspiracy.”
Joe Burnham, Time Out

As featured on Democracy Now!, ABC News and Truthout. Buy the DVD here.

I’m delighted to announce that the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington) has been chosen as part of the prestigious Bradford International Film Festival, which runs from March 16 to 27, 2011 (click on the link for the PDF of the full programme). The film will be screened on Saturday March 26, followed by a Q&A session with the directors, and with former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Deghayes (who is featured prominently in the film), and it will also be screened on Sunday March 27. Screening information is here, tickets (£6.75/£5 concs.) can be booked by calling Cineworld on 0871 200 2000, and see here for additional booking information.

This is the fourth film festival screening for “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” following screenings at the Human Rights, Human Wrongs Film Festival in Oslo last February, the London International Documentary Festival last April, and the D.C. Independent Film Festival in Washington D.C. on March 5 this year, and it is, I believe, a testament to the power of the film and to the ongoing significance of Guantánamo — and the plight of the men still held there — now that President Obama, capitulating to pressure from Republicans (and members of his own party), has abandoned all attempts to close the prison during the rest of his time in office, and, as a result, is presiding over a situation in which many of the 172 men still held can legitimately be regarded as political prisoners.

Full details of the screenings are as follows:

Saturday March 26, 6.30 pm: Film screening – “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo.” Followed by Q&A with Omar Deghayes, Andy Worthington and Polly Nash.
Bradford International Film Festival, Cineworld, Bradford Leisure Exchange, Vicar Lane, Bradford, BD1 5LD.

This screening is part of the Bradford International Film Festival. Screening information is here, tickets (£6.75/£5 concs.) can be booked by calling Cineworld on 0871 200 2000, and see here for additional booking information.

Sunday March 27, 2 pm: Film screening – “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo.”
Bradford International Film Festival, Cineworld, Bradford Leisure Exchange, Vicar Lane, Bradford, BD1 5LD.

This screening is part of the Bradford International Film Festival. Screening information is here, tickets (£6.75/£5 concs.) can be booked by calling Cineworld on 0871 200 2000, and see here for additional booking information.

These dates are part of an ongoing UK tour of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” mainly featuring Andy Worthington as a speaker at Q&A sessions following screenings arranged by Amnesty International student groups. See “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” — UK Tour Dates 2011: The “Save Shaker Aamer” Tour for further information. This page will be updated regularly as new tour dates are added.

About the film

The film focuses on the stories of three prisoners — Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who is still held, and Binyam Mohamed and Omar Deghayes (both released) — and features interviews with former prisoners Moazzam Begg and Omar Deghayes, lawyers Clive Stafford Smith and Tom Wilner, and journalist Andy Worthington, plus appearances from Guantánamo’s former Muslim chaplain James Yee, Imam Shakeel Begg, and the British human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce.

The purpose of the film is to raise awareness of the truth about Guantánamo, extraordinary rendition, secret prisons and torture, explaining how the Bush administration turned its back on domestic and international laws, rounding up men and boys in Afghanistan and Pakistan without adequate screening (and often for bounty payments), and also explaining why, contrary to the Bush administration’s claims that Guantánamo held “the worst of the worst,” some of these men were in Afghanistan or Pakistan for reasons unconnected with militancy or terrorism (as missionaries or humanitarian aid workers, for example), and very few of the 779 men held since the prison opened had any involvement with international terrorism.

In addition, at screenings throughout the year, including the BIFF, the filmmakers are focusing specifically on the ongoing plight of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo. Although he was cleared for release from Guantánamo in 2007, Shaker, a Saudi national with a British wife and four British children, is still held, despite the fact that, last November, he was included in a financial settlement that the British government reached with 15 former prisoners (which he obviously cannot conclude while held in Guantánamo), despite the fact that the Metropolitan Police are investigating his claims that British agents witnessed his abuse by US soldiers in a prison in Afghanistan, before his transfer to Guantánamo in February 2002, and despite the fact that the coalition government’s planned judicial inquiry into British complicity in torture abroad, announced by Prime Minister David Cameron last July, cannot legitimately start while he is still held.

For further information, interviews, or to inquire about broadcasting, distributing or showing “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” please contact Polly Nash or Andy Worthington. Below, on YouTube, you can watch the first five minutes of the film via Orchard Pictures, from whom you can also pay to watch the whole film online. You can also pay to watch it online, for just £1, via Journeyman Pictures.

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.

The New American Revolution: Are Wisconsin’s 100,000 Protestors A Sign of Further Resistance to Come?

As citizens of Western countries are inspired by the revolutions in the Middle East — and in particular, I think, by witnessing the unquechable determination of so many people to throw off the shackles of tyranny, no matter the cost — the first battleground to open up in the United States is Madison, Wisconsin, where governor Scott Walker, described in the Guardian by US author and screenwriter Clancy Segal (the child of union organizers) as “a dim bulb but ultra-reactionary and with obvious political ambitions,” is heading “a sustained, coordinated campaign by recently elected and highly pugnacious Republican governors to cripple what’s left of the American labor movement” by stripping public sector unions of most of their collective bargaining rights, as well as imposing steep reductions on workers’ pension and health care benefits.

Walker, like right-wingers around the world (including, of course, the UK), is using the fallout from the financial crisis of 2008 as an excuse for implementing cuts that will impact those who were not to blame for the criminal excesses of the financial sector — and his hypocrisy is clear from the $140 million in new corporate tax breaks that he has handed out, equivalent to the budget shortfall that he expects workers to make up for with the loss of their benefits and, in some cases, their jobs. The bigger picture , however, was noted by Paul Krugman in an op-ed in the New York Times last week:

What’s happening in Wisconsin isn’t about the state budget, despite Mr. Walker’s pretense that he’s just trying to be fiscally responsible. It is, instead, about power. What Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to do is to make Wisconsin — and eventually, America — less of a functioning democracy and more of a third-world-style oligarchy. And that’s why anyone who believes that we need some counterweight to the political power of big money should be on the demonstrators’ side.

Similar campaigns are also underway in a dozen other state capitals –- including Ohio, Indiana and Florida — but it is in Wisconsin that those fighting back have made their first mark, occupying the state capitol building two weeks ago, and, this weekend, attracting over 100,000 protestors against the governor’s plans, wth rallies taking place in almost every other state in support of the Wisconsin occupation.

In a great article for CBS News, entitled, “Cairo in Wisconsin,” Andy Kroll of Mother Jones captured the heady atmosphere of rebellion and solidarity in the capitol building over the last two weeks:

The call reportedly arrived from Cairo. Pizza for the protesters, the voice said. It was Saturday, February 20th, and by then Ian’s Pizza on State Street in Madison, Wisconsin, was overwhelmed.

One employee had been assigned the sole task of answering the phone and taking down orders. And in they came, from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, from Morocco, Haiti, Turkey, Belgium, Uganda, China, New Zealand, and even a research station in Antarctica. More than 50 countries around the globe. Ian’s couldn’t make pizza fast enough, and the generosity of distant strangers with credit cards was paying for it all.

Those pizzas, of course, were heading for the Wisconsin state capitol, an elegant domed structure at the heart of this Midwestern college town. For nearly two weeks, tens of thousands of raucous, sleepless, grizzled, energized protesters have called the stately capitol building their home. As the police moved in to clear it out on Sunday afternoon, it was still the pulsing heart of the largest labor protest in my lifetime, the focal point of rallies and concerts against a politically-charged piece of legislation proposed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a hard-right Republican. […]

I arrived in Madison several days into the protests. I’ve watched the crowds swell, nearly all of those arriving — and some just not leaving — united against Governor Walker’s “budget repair bill.” I’ve interviewed protesters young and old, union members and grassroots organizers, students and teachers, children and retirees. I’ve huddled with labor leaders in their Madison “war rooms,” and sat through the governor’s press conferences. I’ve slept on the cold, stone floor of the Wisconsin state capitol (twice). Believe me, the spirit of Cairo is here. The air is charged with it.

It was strongest inside the Capitol. A previously seldom-visited building had been miraculously transformed into a genuine living, breathing community.  There was a medic station, child day care, a food court, sleeping quarters, hundreds of signs and banners, live music, and a sense of camaraderie and purpose you’d struggle to find in most American cities, possibly anywhere else in this country. Like Cairo’s Tahrir Square in the weeks of the Egyptian uprising, most of what happens inside the Capitol’s walls is protest.

In the Guardian, meanwhile, Clancy Segal explained more about what is at stake:

This assault is essentially an ambush of the working middle class. It is openly financed by Big Money, like the hard-right multibillionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, who also fund — courtesy of the US supreme court’s Citizens United decision — the Tea Party groups that supply anti-labour’s ideological storm troopers.

Sensing a possible kill, union-busters are — unlike our side — in no mood to compromise. So, it comes as no surprise when Jeffrey Cox, Indiana’s deputy attorney general, calls Wisconsin public sector workers “thugs” against whom he advocates deadly force. “Use live ammunition,” he tweeted. Reluctantly, his boss fired him. Poor lawyer Cox was merely saying aloud what a whole slew of Republican state governors and elected officials are thinking, but dare not say … yet.

They want to push us back not just to the 1930s, before New Deal labour laws mandated collective bargaining and anti-child labour laws, but to the red-in-tooth-and-claw pitched battles of the 1890s, in which unions were defeated by force of arms – as in Homestead, Pullman and Coeur d’Alene when local and federal governments felt little compunction about shooting down strikers.

To prevent the passage of Walker’s measures, the most extraordinary situation has developed, whereby the entire Democratic delegation has fled the state to avoid a quorum vote and is refusing to return until Walker agrees to negotiate. This, at least, demonstrates some spine on the part of the lawmakers involved, because the stakes involved are so high. As Clancy Segal also explained:

The crux [of the problem], as expressed by America’s most successful investor Warren Buffet: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making the war, and we’re winning.” But pushing the case that it was labour unions that made the middle class could get through — because it’s true. When unions were at their height, with 35% of the private sector workforce in the 1950s (now down to 7%), bargained collectively for better wages and conditions, it impacted everybody and made their lives better, union, non-union and anti-union alike.

In Madison, the police announced that they would clear the capitol building by 4pm on Sunday, but as hundreds of protestors refused refused to leave and to allow their protest to fade away, perhaps recognizing, from the lessons of Tahrir Square in Cairo, that it is only by staying put and refusing to go home that their momentum can be sustained, the most extraordinary development took place. As The Understory reported, “Hundreds of cops have just marched into the Wisconsin state capitol building to protest the anti-Union bill, to massive applause. They now join up to 600 people who are inside.” Police spokespeople told the protestors, “We have been ordered by the legislature to kick you all out at 4:00 today. But we know what’s right from wrong. We will not be kicking anyone out. In fact, we will be sleeping here with you!”

Even police chief Charles Tubbs was unwilling to act against the protestors, telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “The people who are in the building will be allowed to stay. There will be no arrests unless people violate the law.” The paper reported that he “announced the decision to let the protesters stay after he saw how they moved aside while work crews went about cleaning the Capitol, including mopping and polishing floors,” and that he explained, “People are very cooperative. I appreciate that.”

From across the ocean, the protestors — and the police — have my support.

Note: Please see below for a video of Iraq veteran Aaron Hughes talking to the crowd in the occupied State capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin. Aaron explained that, in Iraq, he learned that the US military was unable to implement democracy; that, he said, came from people like those occupying the capitol building, and from the recent example provided by the people of Egypt. He also read part of Iraq Veterans Against the War‘s statement urging members of the Wisconsin National Guard to resist orders if they are mobilized to repress any forthcoming strikes.

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, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, 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.

Tunisia: The Unfinished Revolution, as Prime Minister Resigns, Despite Progress on Elections and the Release of Political Prisoners

Six weeks after Tunisia’s long-serving dictator, Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, was forced to flee the country after the popular uprising that has inspired similar movements throughout the Middle East, Mohamed Ghannouchi, who was the head of the transitional government that took over from Ben Ali, has responded to the largest protests since the dictator’s fall — a weekend of violent protests that left five people dead — by tendering his resignation.

Ghannouchi, who was the Prime Minister under Ben Ali for ten years, had struggled to convince a significant number of the Tunisian people that he represented a break with the old regime — hence the protests at the weekend.

In an attempt to cling onto power, Ghannouchi had promised to bring forward the date of democratic elections from September to mid-July, which is a positive development, but as Al-Jazeera reported on Friday, as a crowd numbering at least 100,000 protestors gathered in the Kasbah government quarter of Tunis, “Demonstrators chanted ‘Ghannouchi leave’ and ‘Shame on this government’ as army helicopters circled above the crowd.”

Reporting from the capital, Al-Jazeera’s James Bays said, “This is the largest protest in Tunisia since the fall of Ben Ali. And it shows you that even though the world’s attention is now on Libya, in some of those countries that have already had a revolution, things are far from over.”

Al-Jazeera also reported that protesters shouted “Revolution until victory” and “We will root out repression in our land.” Tibini Mohamed, a 25-year-old student, told AFP, “We are here today to topple the government.” and other protesters told Al- Jazeera, “The dictator has gone but the dictatorship is still here,” and “We are suffering because Ghannouchi is the same as Ben Ali.”

Announcing his departure on Tunisian national TV on Sunday, Mohamed Ghannounchi said, “My resignation will provide a better atmosphere for the new era. My resignation is in the service of the country.” Within hours, Tunisia’s interim president, Fouad Mebazaa, named former government minister Beji Caid-Essebsi as the new prime minister, although it is by no means clear that Caid-Essebsi will fare any better.

The transitional government has faced regular protests since Ben Ali’s fall, with opponents particularly focused on demands that remnants of the old government be expelled — a limited hope, given Ghannouchi’s previous role in Ben Ali’s reviled regime, and not one that has substantially improved with the appointment of Beji Caid-Essebsi.

It remains to be seen whether the transitional government can manage to retain order — and the confidence of the people — for the next four and half months. Protestors are restless for change, and, as the Guardian reported, they “want the interim government disbanded along with the current parliament. They also seek the suspension of the constitution and the formation of an elected assembly that can write another, organise elections and oversee the transition to democracy.”

To be fair to the remnants of Ben Ali’s regime, however, they have taken important steps towards meaningful change in the last six weeks. Immediately after the dictator’s departure, the transitional cabinet “decided to recognise all banned political parties and agreed on a general amnesty for all political prisoners,” as Al-Jazeera reported at the time.

As a result, Rachid Ghannouchi, the exiled head of trhe Islamist party Ennahdha (aka al-Nahda), returned from Paris, even before the amnesty, which was issued last Saturday, came into effect. and former members of Ennahdha, including former Guantánamo prisoner Abdallah Hajji (also identified as Abdullah bin Amor) were also released from prison, as I explained in my article, Guantánamo: A Tale of Two Tunisians. Announcing the amnesty, the state media declared that it applied to “all those who were imprisoned or prosecuted for crimes as a result of their political or trade union activities,” and added, “The government is hoping that this law will finally end an era of repression and provide the right conditions for the election.”

No one knows quite how many political prisoners there were under Ben Ali. A week after his fall, Al-Jazeera reported that the transitional government said that 1,800 political prisoners had already been freed, although Al-Jazeera’s Nazanine Moshiri, reporting from Tunis, pointed out that it “was difficult to know how many detainees there had been in the first place.” She added, “We’ve heard earlier in the day that some Islamist ones, belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, may not have been freed yet, being kept under Tunisian anti-terror laws.”

On January 20, after the first releases, Amnesty International celebrated the release of two Amnesty International prisoners of conscience, journalist Fahem Boukadous and activist Hassan Ben Abdallah, seized after protests in the Gafsa region in 2008, convicted after unfair trials and given four-year prison sentences, but noted that “not all political prisoners were released as initially announced,” and that Ali Hirabi, Ali Ben Farhat, and Hachemi Ben Taleb, linked to Ennahdha, were “still to be released despite promises.”

Last weekend, Reuters stated that the government has, to date, “released some 3,000 people imprisoned by the Ben Ali regime, though most are believed to have been petty criminals serving over-long sentences, as opposed to being political prisoners,” adding that human rights groups estimated that Tunisia had “about 1,000 political prisoners following Ben Ali’s 23 years in power.” According to a lawyer who spoke to AFP last weekend, “between 300 and 500” political prisoners remained in jail.

More precise figures were published on February 6 by Human Rights Watch, whose representatives had been allowed to visit Tunisia’s prisons for the first time in 20 years. Human Rights Watch reported:

The Justice Ministry said that at the time the transitional government took office, slightly more than 500 prisoners were being held for politically motivated offenses. The number was close to the estimate given by the International Association for Solidarity with Political Prisoners, an independent Tunisian human rights organization.

About 150 remain incarcerated, 87 serving sentences under the anti-terrorism law and another 56 awaiting trial, according to a Justice Ministry official. A few additional prisoners are serving politically motivated sentences not under the anti-terrorism law but under the ordinary penal code or military law.

During the events surrounding the president’s ouster, 11,029 prisoners escaped, of whom 2,425 had voluntarily surrendered as of February 3, a Justice Ministry official said. Since then, the judiciary has used its prerogative under the law to release conditionally 3,240 criminal prisoners, some of them first-time offenders who had served half their sentences and others who are recidivists and who were eligible for release after having served two-thirds of their sentences.

A Justice Ministry official said that 128 prisoners convicted under Tunisia’s 2003 anti-terrorism law were among those who escaped and that they have been urged to return to custody. Another 177 serving sentences under the anti-terrorism law were among those released conditionally and another 100 facing trial under that law were freed provisionally.

Human Rights Watch also noted that, on February 1, just two of the three Ennahdha prisoners mentioned by Amnesty International — Ali Farhat and Ali Abdallah Saleh Harrabi (Harabi), both in their early 50s — remained in prison, and that both were serving sentences of about six months.

As prisoners are released, some of them are telling their stories, and the following article, which involves prisoners claiming that they were waterboarded, and, on occasion, interrogated by US agents, was published by AFP on February 26. Following that is an article published on Global Post the week before.

Ex-convicts tell of torture in Tunisia’s jails under Ben Ali
AFP, February 26, 2011

TUNIS — Tunisia’s former political prisoners are coming forward to denounce the torture and bad treatment they endured when jailed for long periods under the toppled regime.

Some say that what they suffered during their long sentences under ousted president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali was on a par with conditions in the infamous Iraqi prison of Abu Ghraib.

“Since my arrest, at the start of 2005, I was subjected to all forms of torture in the cellars of the ministry of the interior and in the 17 prisons to which I was transferred,” Khaled Layouni, 34, told AFP.

Provisionally released on February 1, Layouni said that he had “spent six years in prison for belonging to a terrorist group”, under an anti-terrorist law passed in the north African country in 2003. Seated with five “comrades”, some of whom had long beards, Layouni said he was arrested in a cafe in the United Arab Emirates after having “exchanged messages about religion on the Internet.”

He was extradited to Tunisia on suspicion of “wanting to take part in the training camps in Iraq”, and Layouni said that he was then “interrogated by agents of the CIA (US Central Intelligence Agency), who treated me as a terrorist” in a Tunisian prison.

Layouni claimed without being able to prove it that those who questioned him “were very well trained Americans who spoke Arabic.” He said that Tunisian police “humiliated me in every possible way, one of their tortures consisting of putting us in the ‘roast chicken’ position, a position in which the body is bound and huddled up small for hours on end.”

Layouni spoke of things that kept him from sleeping, like “cold baths”, “beatings with a stick,” “enraged dogs held on a leash that barked at us (like) in Abu Ghraib” and “cellophane that they wrapped around our heads before pouring water over it to simulate drowning.”

“They had a particular hatred for us (Islamists). They tried by all means to isolate us from the other preachers. They insulted our relatives and our Prophet by using very vulgar words.”

Ben Ali’s police state was seen as a regional rampart against Islamic extremists. Accused of “membership of a terrorist group” in 2005, Mohamed Amin Oun, 35, who served five years in jail, said that “the worst was the lack of sleep” and being forced to go naked.

“Whenever I closed my eyes, policemen would wake me and yell, ‘So, now you see paradise,'” said the former telecoms official, adding that he had been beaten many times.

According to lawyer Radhia Nasraoui, who is head of Tunisia’s Association to Combat Torture, thousands of political prisoners have been tortured, of whom some have died and others still remain missing.

Torture, openly denounced today, has ravaged the families of those who have died in prison. This is the case with Zouhair Yahyaoui, an Internet dissident who founded a satirical online journal, TuneZine, and who died in March 2005, aged 36, of what officials called a heart attack.

Writing under the pseudonym “Ettounsi” (The Tunisian), Yahyaoui was the first to publish an open letter to Ben Ali in which he denounced the workings of the justice system in Tunisia. Sentenced in 2002 to two years in prison, Yahyaoui told his mother that “he was tortured in a cellar at the ministry of the interior, where agents suspended him in the air all night long, naked. They beat him while insulting him.”

“In spite of pains in his chest, they refused to give him treatment. Even dead, he showed traces of blows everywhere. My son sacrificed his youth and his life for a free Tunisia and everybody has forgotten him,” his mother said.

Zouhair Yahyaoui was awarded the June 2003 Prix Cyberliberte (Cyberfreedom Prize) in Paris. Less than 10 years later, the mobilisation of Tunisian youth via the Facebook network helped to bring down Ben Ali’s iron regime.

Tunisia: Toppling Ben Ali just the beginning
Jon Jensen, Global Post, February 19, 2011

TUNIS, Tunisia — The dusk call to prayer echoes throughout the warren of alleyways near the Al-Khadra medieval gate, summoning the Muslim faithful in this old medina as it has for hundreds of years.

But at the centuries-old Sidi Guisem mosque, change is in the air.

The small entrance to the mosque, once shut except for short periods five times daily during prayers, is now open around the clock. The Friday sermon there no longer ends with requisite praise to the country’s former strongman president, Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.

And worshippers there say they are no longer scared to pray.

“The air in this mosque smells different now, like freedom,” said Abdel Ghonni Binnour, 41. “Life is completely different now.”

In the weeks since the ouster of Ben Ali, whose secular government brutally suppressed the nation’s al-Nahda Islamist movement over his 23 years in power, conservatives in Tunisia are now reveling in the newfound freedom to worship.

But for Binnour — a member of al-Nahda [Ennahdha] — the freedoms did not come easily.

Binnour, along with 20 other members of the congregation at Sidi Guisem, spent years as a political prisoner in Ben Ali’s notorious detention centers, where he was beaten, tortured and kept in isolation.

Thousands of Tunisia’s Islamists were imprisoned throughout Ben Ali’s 23 years in power.

Now, as Tunisia’s interim government trudges forward to restore stability in the country and plan for the upcoming general election — scheduled for no later than July — preparations are underway to grant amnesty to all the political prisoners tried and held during the previous era.

And al-Nahda, once banned from participation in politics, is re-emerging and has officially applied for a party license.

Across the Arab world, from Tahrir Square to the streets of Bahrain, Tunisia has been seen as a model of inspiration by anti-government protesters similarly hoping to topple autocratic leaders.

But some in Tunisia — especially those who suffered the worst abuses under Ben Ali’s repressive regime — are finding that overthrowing a corrupt leader is only the beginning. Former political prisoners, while dreaming of a new democratic post-revolutionary Tunisia, still bear scars of the old regime that will likely take years to heal.

“I’ve been out of prison since 1992,” said Kamal Belgassem, a 48-year-old shopkeeper near the Sidi Guisem mosque. “But I still feel like I’m living in another prison.”

Belgassem was arrested in 1991 while demonstrating at a political rally in solidarity with Iraqis during the first Gulf War. He was charged with belonging to a banned group, al-Nahda.

He is now almost completely deaf, after suffering repeated blows to his ears by interrogators during two stints as a political prisoner. Beatings on the soles of Belgassem’s feet have permanently scarred his ankles, and he is unable to fit into shoes other than sandals.

“It wasn’t always physical torture,” said Belgassem. “Sometimes we were held in rooms next to people who were being tortured. We could hear people crying, then the guards would come in the room and say, ‘You are next.’”

Ben Ali, ever fearful of an extremist takeover in Tunisia, had thousands of al-Nahda members jailed and summarily tortured during his 23-year reign.

The worst period was in the early 1990s, after al-Nahda won around 15 percent of the seats in the 1989 parliamentary election.

Ben Ali’s internal security force was massive — around 200,000-strong — and ruled with fear and complete impunity, according to human rights groups.

Police would frequently follow citizens in the streets as an intimidation tactic to prevent activism, according to Erik Goldstein, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch.

Some were arrested simply for visiting jihadi websites on their personal computers.

“With very few exceptions, political prisoners [under Ben Ali] were not people with blood on their hands,” said Goldstein. “They were mostly arrested for non-violent crimes. And the government did not treat Islamists like normal prisoners.”

Beatings, forced hangings from chains and extended periods of isolation were common for political prisoners.

Members of the security services were not immune either.

Police forces were sometimes arrested to serve as an example or warning to others, in order to maintain strict loyalty to the regime.

Tahami Hajammar, a former security official, was arrested in 1991 while praying at a mosque. During his four-year imprisonment, he was often tortured by being dunked into buckets of refuse water while dangling upside-down from a ceiling during interrogations.

“This often happened five times a week,” said Hajammar, 45, outside the Sidi Guisem mosque. “The interrogators would insult me, shouting, ‘Where is your God now? Do you think he will save you now?’”

The country’s interim government purged around 30 members of the feared Interior Ministry earlier this month, in an effort to rebrand the image of Tunisian police forces.

Still, several instances of police abuse have been documented since the departure of Ben Ali in January.

In early February, two demonstrators were killed and a police station torched during clashes with security in central Tunisia.

Calls by the government to end torture in Tunisian prisons have been widely lauded, but have not stopped demonstrations outside the country’s Justice Ministry.

Last week, protesting lawyers in Tunis called for greater reform in Tunisia’s judicial branch, which many view as a corrupt system that processed unfair trials of prisoners during Ben Ali’s regime.

Some former political prisoners and members of al-Nahda, like Binnour, only envision justice coming in the form of future political participation for his once banned movement.

Hundreds celebrated the return of al-Nahda’s exiled leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, to the country in late January.

And despite having served the longest period of detention — 14 years — of all the worshippers at the small Sidi Guisem mosque, Binnour says he is no longer angry with his former prison guards.

“Of course the high officials under Ben Ali should be held accountable,” said Binnour. “But at a certain point, we all have to stop, forgive, and say, ‘Let’s just move on with our country.’”

Note: For further information about Ben Ali’s prison network, see the website Tunisian Prison Map, which was banned in Tunisia while the dictator was in power.

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, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, 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.

NGO Letter to Chair of UK Torture Inquiry, Raising Concerns About Possible Whitewash

In a recent article, Lawyers and Human Rights Groups Criticize Proposed UK Torture Inquiry, As the Government Fails to Address the Return of Shaker Aamer, the Last British Resident in Guantánamo, I addressed the concerns raised by nine NGOs — Amnesty International, Cageprisoners, JUSTICE, Liberty, the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, Redress, Reprieve, the AIRE Centre and British Irish Rights Watch — about the terms of reference for the British government’s proposed inquiry into British complicity in torture, and their fears that the government is planning a whitewash. For further information, I refer you to that article, but for the full details of the NGOs’ concerns, I’m cross-posting below the latest letter sent by the nine groups to Sir Peter Gibson, the judge appointed to head the inquiry. Please note that a version of this letter with detailed footnotes (providing references to legal precedents) is available here.

NGOs letter to Sir Peter Gibson, February 8, 2011

The Rt. Hon. Sir Peter Gibson
The Detainee Inquiry
35 Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3BQ

08 February 2011

Re: Submission to the Detainee Inquiry

Dear Sir Peter,

Thank you for the opportunity to raise and discuss a number of issues with respect to the conduct of the Detainee Inquiry at the non-governmental organization (NGO) stakeholder meeting on 20 January 2011; the openness of the discussion was much appreciated. Following your suggestion, we have put in writing our views on a number of the issues raised.

This submission seeks to address an issue of fundamental importance to the Detainee Inquiry Panel: what constitutes a human rights-compliant inquiry under the United Kingdom’s international legal obligations, in particular the general requirements deriving from Article 3 (prohibition against torture) of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) and other relevant international standards.

More specifically, the latter section of this submission addresses two issues with respect to the disclosure of evidence, including recommendations for how the Inquiry should handle material which the government claims cannot be made public due to considerations of national security and the need for powers to compel the production of documents and attendance of witnesses.

General requirement of an Article 3 inquiry

At the 20 January meeting, we discussed the need for the Detainee Inquiry to comply in letter and spirit with the international obligation to investigate allegations of torture and other ill-treatment. The protocols for other inquiries were mentioned, such as the Chilcot and Saville Inquiries, but it is important to recognise that the Detainee Inquiry was established specifically to examine allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, which give rise to particular requirements under Article 3 ECHR.

The European Court of Human Rights case law requires that any investigation or inquiry into allegations of torture adhere to the following principles: in general, it must be independent, impartial, subject to public scrutiny, and include effective access for victims to the process. Persons conducting the inquiry must act with exemplary diligence and promptness, and the investigation must be capable of establishing the facts and identifying those who were responsible for the violations. The state’s obligation to investigate is not relieved by its inability to obtain cooperation from other states that have access to some of the relevant information. Every effort must be made to seek and secure information regarding torture violations, including from other states and despite their unwillingness to cooperate (see section below on what constitutes a “thorough” inquiry).

The duty to investigate allegations of torture obtains even when the state in question is not alleged to have directly perpetrated the violations in question, but is alleged to have had knowledge of, been complicit or involved in, or provided help or assistance to another state which has had a substantial impact with respect to the perpetration of the violation. In situations where there appears to be a pattern of serious human rights violations, the investigation should be expansive enough to examine broader questions of the systemic nature of the violations, the chain of command and management within the system, and the institutional culture of the agencies and other governmental apparatus alleged to have perpetrated or been complicit in the violations.

The Detainee Inquiry must be carried out in a manner capable of producing tangible results. It is an obligation of means, not of result. As a consequence, “[a]ny deficiency in the investigation which undermines its abilityto establish the circumstances of the case, or the person responsible, is liable to fall foul of the required measure of effectiveness.” Thus, a failure to conduct the Inquiry properly would constitute a violation by the UK of its obligations under Article 3 that is additional to and independent of any violation of Article 3 arising from the torture itself.

Constituent elements of an Article 3 inquiry

An Article 3 compliant inquiry into allegations of torture and other ill-treatment must be 1) prompt; 2) independent; 3) thorough; 4) capable of leading to the identification and prosecution of persons responsible; and 5) provide for public scrutiny and victim participation. While our letter of 8 September 2010 referred to these elements, this submission provides more detail regarding the legal basis for the requirement of each element and some policy considerations for ensuring adherence to them.

Prompt: European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence has interpreted an implicit requirement for promptness and reasonable expedition into the obligation to conduct an effective investigation capable of leading to the identification and punishment of those responsible for human rights violations. Some of the events that the Detainee Inquiry will examine occurred at least a decade ago, which may present challenges to establishing some facts with regard to the allegations. It is thus vital that the Inquiry is provided immediately with all the necessary resources, both human and material, to enable it to investigate these allegations in as expedient a manner as possible. It is important, however, that the inquiry not be limited to one year if a longer period is required to effectively investigate the allegations.

  • The Detainee Inquiry Panel should publicly announce now that, should it become evident that an extension of the one-year time period provided by the Prime Minister is necessary for the Panel to complete an effective investigation, it will make such a request to the Prime Minister and would expect such an extension to be granted.
  • The Detainee Inquiry Panel should request adequate resources to ensure that the inquiry commences at a pace that complies with the legal requirement that it be concluded in as prompt and expeditious a manner as possible, without sacrificing efficacy.

Independent: An effective investigation requires that the persons responsible for and carrying out the investigation are independent from those implicated in the events. An independent investigation “means not only a lack of hierarchical or institutional connection but also a practical independence” of the investigating authority. The need for independence is particularly important where agents of the state are suspected of having been involved in the violation of Article 3, because, in the European Court of Human Rights’ view, a prompt and independent response subject to public scrutiny is essential to preserve confidence in the administration of justice.

  • The Detainee Inquiry Panel should disclose any conflict of interest that might jeopardize the independence of the investigation;
  • The Detainee Inquiry Panel should consider policies and practices that ensure its practical independence from the government, such as the publication on a public website of as many transcripts and as much evidence as possible, the holding in public of as many hearings as possible, and public acknowledgment of any limitations that have been imposed on the Inquiry by the government or by any state agency.

Thorough: In order to comply with the requirements of Article 3 ECHR the Detainee Inquiry must be thorough, wide-ranging and rigorous, and capable of leading to the identification and punishment of those responsible for human rights violations. It thus must be able to:

  • Establish the facts of the alleged violations and publicly disclose the truth of the allegations to the fullest extent possible;
  • Pronounce on state responsibility for knowledge of and involvement in the serious human rights violations that have been alleged;
  • Investigate the policies and practices that led to involvement in violations of human rights;
  • Identify where government practices or policies deliberately, or inevitably (if not through lack of due diligence), gave rise to human rights violations;
  • Identify any individuals responsible for such abuses, including establishing the responsibility of superior officers for crimes committed by subordinates under their effective control;
  • Refer information regarding criminal conduct and human rights violations to the relevant authorities;
  • Identify measures to prevent reoccurrence of involvement in human rights violations, including recommendations for effective independent oversight of the intelligence services, aimed at ensuring their full accountability.

It is critical to note that the procedural obligation of thoroughness is stricter where the state, as opposed to private individuals or other non-state actors, is implicated in an offence, and requires a wider examination than simply investigating individuals who may have been involved in the violations. For example, wider examination is required if the investigation fails to address the full scope of the state’s involvement in the violations. The European Court of Human Rights has also found that there may be circumstances where issues arise that have not, or cannot, be addressed in a criminal trial, such as where government policy or practices deliberately or inevitably gave rise to unlawful conduct, including by their concealment. In such instances, a wider inquiry may be warranted, as the European Court of Human Rights had found in several of the UK cases related to the killings of alleged IRA members.

A review of European Court of Human Rights case law suggests that the following measures are required of those persons responsible for conducting an inquiry or investigation into allegations of torture and other ill-treatment:

  • (i) take all reasonable steps to secure evidence concerning the incidents under investigation, including forensic evidence and testimony of eyewitnesses and other key witnesses;
  • (ii) attempt to interview the victims/survivors of the alleged violations;
  • (iii) attempt to question eyewitnesses in the immediate aftermath of an incident when memories are fresh;
  • (iv) identify all officials involved in the violations;
  • (v) take careful and prompt statements of officials involved in the violations;
  • (vi) resolve uncertainties and ambiguities in accounts of key witnesses and physical evidence;
  • (vii) secure an independent medical report in cases of alleged torture and other ill-treatment where one is reasonably required;
  • (viii) secure the evidence of a forensic specialist where one is reasonably required;
  • (ix) make efforts to locate and secure key evidence, (including not simply accepting allegations of facts by state authorities, but rather investigating whether there is actually any evidence in support of them);
  • (x) take account of evident or visible evidence;
  • (xi) take account of evidence which supports allegations of involvement of state agents;
  • (xii) not give undue weight to unsupported conclusions or inferences and conclusions that lack sufficient evidentiary support; and
  • (xiii) not reach factual conclusions that require assumptions contrary to the principles under Article 3.

We thus recommend that:

  • The Detainee Inquiry ensure that it has relevant and adequate expertise in terms of staffing to ensure that the skill set required to thoroughly and effectively investigate the allegations of torture and other ill-treatment is secured on the Inquiry team;
  • The Detainee Inquiry ensure that it has powers to compel the disclosure of evidence and the testimony of relevant witnesses (see section below on disclosure issues);
  • The Detainee Inquiry identify and establish the responsibility of individuals for human rights violations, and refer that information to relevant authorities.

Public Scrutiny and Victim Participation: In order to maintain public confidence in the UK’s adherence to the rule of law and to prevent any appearance of its ongoing collusion in or tolerance of unlawful acts, “there must be a sufficient element of public scrutiny of the investigation or its results to secure accountability in practice as well as in theory.” This is particularly so where there are serious issues of public interest at stake, in which case the findings must be given the widest possible exposure.

Aside from determinations regarding public access to information, victims must be afforded effective access to the investigatory procedure and must be involved in the procedure to the extent necessary to safeguard their legitimate interests. (see section below on disclosure)

European Court of Human Rights case law also requires the particularly vulnerable situation of victims of torture to be taken into account during investigations. We were heartened at the 20 January meeting by indications that legal representation will be afforded to the victims (or ‘survivors’ as many prefer to be called) at the Inquiry’s expense. The panel also appeared receptive to NGO representations on the importance of both properly assessing the needs of victims who will be involved in the inquiry and developing appropriate processes that facilitate disclosure by victims whilst minimising the risk of re-traumatisation and other forms of harm.

We propose that:

  • The Detainee Inquiry work with clinical and other specialists from NGOs to develop a written protocol to guide the Inquiry’s approach to involving victims and the special measures that will be adopted to support their participation.

The right to effective remedy and redress for victims

The UK’s obligation to carry out an effective investigation into allegations of torture and other ill-treatment also derives from the right of victims of human rights violations to effective remedy and redress, as firmly rooted in Article 13 ECHR (right to an effective remedy) and other international legal standards.

An effective remedy includes, among other things, the right of victims, their families and society as a whole to know the truth regarding the violations suffered, including the identity of the perpetrators, the causes and facts of such violations, and the circumstances under which they occurred. The right to an effective remedy and redress also includes guarantees of non-repetition which should include measures to ensure that such violations are not repeated in the future. Allegations of UK involvement in serious human rights violations of individuals detained abroad in the context of counter-terrorism operations reaches beyond cases connected to the CIA-led programme of rendition and secret detention. Accordingly the need to learn lessons in order to prevent future violations from occurring is paramount to securing public confidence that such violations will not be repeated.

The need for an independent mechanism for disclosure

The issue of whether material considered by the Inquiry should be kept confidential is one of the most important issues the Panel will have to deal with. In some cases, this may involve a difficult balancing exercise. On the one hand, there may be, in limited circumstances, a public interest in ensuring that, for instance, the identity of a confidential informant whose life may be at risk is not made available to members of the public. On the other hand, there is the clear and constant public interest in the fair administration of justice. In the context of this Inquiry, we take this to mean the public interest in identifying any wrongdoing by those public bodies charged with its protection, based on evidence which is open to the public itself to assess. An inquiry which reaches its conclusions based entirely or substantially on closed material cannot be expected to command the confidence of the general public, let alone the confidence of the individual victims of the human rights violations it will investigate.

As Collins J noted concerning the 2007 inquest into the death of a British soldier in Basra, it is fundamental that any official inquiry does not simply accept at face value the claims of secrecy made by the government:

[A]ny claim that material should not be disclosed on national security grounds must be considered by the coroner. His is an inquisitorial, not an adversarial, process. He must have all the information, but he must bear in mind the requirements of the procedural obligation which include enabling the family to play a proper and effective part in the process. (Smith v Assistant Deputy Coroner for Oxfordshire [2008] EWHC 694 (Admin) at para 36, emphasis added).

At the very least, then, compliance with the investigative obligation under Article 3 requires that as much material as possible is made public.

In addition to the well-established purposes applicable to every Article 3 inquiry, it is clear from the Prime Minister’s statement to the House of Commons on 6 July 2010 that there were further pragmatic reasons for commissioning this particular Inquiry. He spoke of a need to “resolve issues of the past” where allegations have been made about the UK’s involvement in the mistreatment of detainees held by other countries, in order to restore the reputation of the security services. He warned: “Our reputation as a country that believes in human rights, justice, fairness and the rule of law … risks being tarnished.”

This additional purpose can only be achieved if the victims and the public can have confidence in the Inquiry’s conclusions. This will depend in large part on how much of its work takes place in public. Lord Neuberger recognised the dangers of closed proceedings in this regard in Al Rawi and others v the Security Service and others [2010] EWCA Civ 482 (para 56):

“While considering practical considerations, it is helpful to stand back and consider not merely whether justice is being done, but whether justice is being seen to be done. If the court was to conclude after a hearing, much of which had been in closed session, attended by the defendants, but not the claimants or the public, that for reasons, some of which were to be found in a closed judgment that was available to the defendants, but not the claimants or the public, that the claims should be dismissed, there is a substantial risk that the defendants would not be vindicated and that justice would not be seen to have been done. The outcome would be likely to be a pyrrhic victory for the defendants, whose reputation would be damaged by such a process, but the damage to the reputation of the court would in all probability be even greater.”

We respectfully suggest that the same considerations apply with even greater force to the work of the Inquiry. The Prime Minister’s letter to you of 6 July 2010 also implicitly acknowledged that, notwithstanding sensitive subject-matter of the Inquiry, as much of the Inquiry’s work as possible should be done in public (emphasis added):

“The Inquiry will have access to all Government papers it requires as relevant to its examination. There are obvious limitations to what can be considered in public. Almost all of the operational intelligence details will need to be reviewed in closed session.

I invite you to consider what can take place in public. It is open to the Inquiry to invite evidence from those who allege mistreatment and other interested parties from outside Government, including in open session. I would look to you to agree with Government a protocol on the treatment of information and the balance of public and private evidence. This protocol will be published.

… I intend to publish the report and any supporting documents you recommend, with redactions only where necessary in order to avoid damage to the public interest.”

In light of the above, we believe that the protocol for the Detainee Inquiry must:

  • (a) expressly recognise the need for as much material as possible to be made public;
  • (b) set out the grounds on which information may be kept confidential, limited to those which are strictly necessary;
  • (c) establish an independent mechanism for determining whether material should be withheld from the public, which includes the ability of the Inquiry Counsel or other independent counsel to test, including through cross-examination, the government’s claims; and
  • (d) ensure that any such determination properly balances the public interest in disclosure against the public interest in withholding the material in question.

Powers to compel evidence

Notwithstanding the Prime Minister’s assurance that the Cabinet Secretary and heads of the intelligence services will “require staff in their departments and agencies to cooperate fully with the Inquiry”, we have serious concerns about the lack of any current powers to compel the production of documents or the attendance of witnesses.

We believe that both the effectiveness and the credibility of the Inquiry risk being seriously damaged by the absence of such powers and we would ask the Panel to convey to the government an urgent need to remedy this. Even assuming all existing members of staff cooperate with the Inquiry, it is quite possible that those who have left office will – unless compelled – refuse to do so. As for private companies whose activities may be relevant to the Inquiry (such as those who are alleged to have facilitated the use of UK airports and airspace for extraordinary rendition flights), it is almost inevitable that those implicated will refuse to cooperate.

An expression of disapproval or disappointment by the Inquiry is simply an inadequate deterrent to anyone who is reluctant to comply with a request to attend or produce documents.

Further submissions on relevant issues

This submission provides legal analysis to support the proposition that the Detainee Inquiry must include specific elements in order to comply with the UK’s obligation to conduct a human rights compliant inquiry. The Inquiry can expect to receive additional submissions from the NGO community regarding specific topics of interest (e.g. the liability of corporations for their role in the operations that led to the human rights violations under scrutiny) and we hope that further engagement will be invited in relation to the operational aspects of some of the key issues of concern (e.g. participation and protection of victims and witnesses), among others.

Yours sincerely,

The AIRE Centre
Amnesty International
British Irish Rights Watch
The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture

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, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, 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.

Lawyers and Human Rights Groups Criticize Proposed UK Torture Inquiry, As the Government Fails to Address the Return of Shaker Aamer, the Last British Resident in Guantánamo

“Whitewash” is a powerful word, but when it comes to the British government’s proposed judicial inquiry into British complicity in torture abroad in the years since the 9/11 attacks, Amnesty International and a number of prominent British NGOs — including Cageprisoners, JUSTICE, Liberty, the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, Redress and Reprieve — are so alarmed that it “will fail to meet the UK’s obligations under international and domestic law,” as the Guardian explained on Wednesday, that they are “considering whether they should boycott the inquiry, due to be headed by Sir Peter Gibson, because they fear it will not be sufficiently independent, impartial or open to public scrutiny” — in other words, they are concerned that it will be a whitewash.

Ever since Prime Minister David Cameron announced the inquiry last July, deep doubts have been expressed about the scope of the inquiry and fears of a whitewash. Less than two weeks after Cameron’s announcement, Reprieve’s director, Clive Stafford Smith, wrote a letter to Gibson in which he called on him to step down from his role as the judge in charge of the inquiry, complaining that “his impartiality is fatally compromised,” and noting that, “As the Intelligence Services Commissioner (ISC), it has been Sir Peter’s job for more than four years to oversee the Security Services,” and as a result “he cannot now be the judge of whether his own work was effective.”

In September, the nine NGOs mentioned above wrote a letter to Sir Peter Gibson outlining their concerns, explaining that, as well as being prompt, independent, thorough and subject to public scrutiny, the inquiry must also involve the participation of the victims. “Survivors or victims must be involved in the process to ensure their right to effective investigation and redress, and special measures must be adopted to ensure this participation is supportive, safe and effective,” they wrote.

The NGOs also explained that the inquiry’s mandate must include “the need to hold accountable those responsible for serious human rights violations,” including, if required, senior officials. They wrote that the inquiry “must be able to pronounce on state responsibility for knowledge and involvement in the serious human rights violations that have been alleged and to identify any individuals responsible for such abuses, including establishing the responsibility of superior officers for crimes committed by subordinates under their effective control.”

These points were made forcefully in the September letter, but they were, however, couched in polite terms, with the NGOs “offer[ing] a number of constructive comments to ensure the success of the inquiry.” In contrast, in a recent letter from the NGOs, which followed a number of meetings with Gibson, the groups involved expanded on the concerns outlined in September, stating, in no uncertain terms that, as the Guardian put it, “the credibility of the inquiry risks being undermined by the high level of secrecy it appears will surround the hearings — at the insistence of the very agencies whose activities are being scrutinised.”

In particular, the NGOs expressed concern that, as the Guardian put it, the inquiry would “fail to meet the UK’s obligations under the European convention on human rights,” which “establishes standards that must be met by official investigations into torture.” These include “the need for a mechanism independent of government to decide what evidence should be made public, and powers to compel evidence.”

In the letter, the NGOs specifically warned that a higher level of public scrutiny is needed “to prevent any appearance of [the government’s] ongoing collusion in or tolerance of unlawful acts.”

When David Cameron announced the inquiry in July, he stated that the reputation of Britain’s security services had been “overshadowed” by allegations of complicity in torture, and had decided that it was “time to clear this matter up once and for all.” Although the government had not been compelled to order an inquiry, pressure for it had come from a seemingly unlikely source — William Hague, the foreign secretary, who had spoken about it on numerous occasions when in opposition — and was driven by a recognition that, particularly with reference to Binyam Mohamed, a British resident who was rendered by the CIA to Morocco (where he was held and tortured for 18 months) after being seized in Pakistan, and was then held in Guantánamo until his release in February 2009, there had been what the Guardian described as “a series of damning court judgments that detailed MI5’s knowledge of the way in which Binyam Mohamed was being tortured before one of its officers questioned him.”

This was all that had come out in court, and it had involved an 18-month game of cat-and-mouse between two high court judges and foreign secretary David Miliband, who had repeatedly (and rather desperately) warned that public disclosure of a summary of Mohamed’s treatment at the hands of the Americans, compiled by the judges, would endanger the intelligence-sharing relationship between the US and the UK.

In February last year, the Court of Appeal brought his obstruction to an end and ordered the release of the summary, but much more of Mohamed’s story — including claims that he was visited in Morocco by a British agent, and by a prisoner-turned-informer captured in Afghanistan — remains barely reported, although it clearly needs to be investigated by Sir Peter Gibson, and is, in addition, information that, like Mohamed’s torture in Pakistan, is of importance to the public because it touches on questions of complicity in torture that should not be hidden from view in a country that claims to treat torture with the repugnance it deserves.

The case of Binyam Mohamed was the most high-profile case involving a prisoner who ended up in Guantánamo, but on a domestic level the government was also under pressure because of an accumulation of media reports  — largely in the Guardian — providing disturbing details of “terrorism suspects being questioned by MI5 and MI6 officers after being tortured in secret prisons around the world.”

They include Rangzieb Ahmed, from Rochdale, who received a life sentence on terrorism charges in December 2008, although he has claimed that, in the 13 months that he was held In Pakistan before he was returned to the UK to face a trial, he was tortured — and had three of his fingernails pulled out — by Pakistani operatives who asked him questions drawn up by MI5 and Manchester police, even though both parties knew that their Pakistani counterparts used torture. Ahmed has just lost an appeal against his sentence, on the frankly risible basis that, although “he may have been subjected to the ‘lesser evil’ of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, ‘torture had not been demonstrated to have occurred, and had been demonstrated not to have occurred before the sole occasion when Rangzieb said he had been seen by British officers,'” as the Guardian described it.

As the Guardian also explained, getting to the heart of what should be the inquiry’s remit, if there is not to be a whitewash, “Gibson is expected to examine the degree of ministerial oversight of such operations and the extent to which ministers and intelligence agents were complicit in torture and illegal ‘rendition’ of terrorism suspects from one country to another.”

There are, however, two more issues relating to the inquiry that are of concern, and that need to be resolved before it can begin, and both, at least partly, involve Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who is still held despite being cleared for release by a military review board in 2007, when President Bush was still in power.

The first of these concerns an ongoing Metropolitan Police inquiry into allegations that representatives of MI5 ands MI6 were complicit in torture. One, as the Guardian put it, “involves allegations that an MI6 officer was involved in the mistreatment of one detainee, who has not been publicly identified,” and the other involves claims made by Shaker Aamer, which were first exposed in a court case in the UK in December 2009, that British agents were in the room when he was tortured by US operatives in the US prison in Kandahar prior to his transfer to Guantánamo in February 2002.

When he announced the inquiry in July, David Cameron told the House of Commons that it could not start “while criminal investigations are ongoing.” One other investigation, into the agent who interrogated Binyam Mohamed in Pakistan, concluded last November with Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, stating that there was insufficient evidence to press charges, although he made a point of noting that a “wider investigation into other potential criminal conduct” was still ongoing. However, as the Guardian reported, “Gibson has indicated that he expects his inquiry to begin hearing evidence in March, which may indicate that he has reason to believe neither police investigation will result in criminal charges.”

Even if this is true, Shaker Aamer’s allegations of torture provide another obstacle to the launch of the inquiry, as it cannot legitimately begin while he is still held, because he is undoubtedly an important witness, whose testimony Sir Peter Gibson will need to hear if the inquiry is to have any credibility. The Guardian noted that, although Jamil Rahman, a British citizen, alleges that British agents “walked into a cell in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where he was being tortured, but retreated, laughing, before returning to question him later,” Shaker Aamer is the only prisoner to have “alleged that he was tortured while British intelligence officers were present.”

Ever since the inquiry was announced — timed in particular to suppress alarming disclosures of the complicity of Tony Blair and Jack Straw in the rendition to Guantánamo of British citizens and residents, which were emerging, at the orders of senior judges, from a civil claim for damages against the government that was brought by seven former Guantanamo prisoners — the need for Shaker Aamer’s return has been pressing.

When 15 former prisoners reached a financial settlement with the government in November, it was revealed that Shaker Aamer was also included in the settlement, although there was, of course, no way that he could conclude the settlement while he was still in Guantánamo. In subsequent statements, former prisoners revealed that they had all pushed the coalition government for his return, alerting ministers and civil servants to his plight, and his importance to them, and apparently securing a promise that, unlike the Labour government — which, it was revealed, had neglected his case, while stating in public that they were pressing for his return — they would be pushing their US counterparts to release him.

Despite this, Shaker Aamer is still held, and while the nine NGOs mentioned above are right to press the government and Sir Peter Gibson to make sure that the proposed inquiry will not be a whitewash, it remains even more troubling that plans for the inquiry appear to be moving ahead without securing Shaker Aamer’s return.

To his lawyers, and to his supporters, Shaker Aamer is “the man who knows too much,” a fearless advocate for the prisoners’ rights, who knows an enormous amount about the dark secrets of Guantánamo, including the deeply suspicious deaths of three prisoners in June 2006. This almost certainly explains why the US government is reluctant to release him, and why the UK may not be in any hurry to have him back here either, but if David Cameron is to have any chance of drawing a lne under British complicity in torture, the immediate return of Shaker Aamer is just as important as the terms of reference for the government’s inquiry.

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, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, 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.

Video: Andy Worthington Discusses the Revolution in Libya with Ernest Hancock

On Friday, I spoke for the first time with the libertarian radio host Ernest Hancock, on his show Freedom’s Phoenix, about the revolution in Libya, following the publication of my recent articles, Revolution in Libya: Protestors Respond to Gaddafi’s Murderous Backlash with Remarkable Courage; US and UK Look Like the Hypocrites They Are, The Year of Revolution: The “War on Tyranny” Replaces the “War on Terror” and Is This the Endgame for Gaddafi’s Murderous Regime in Libya?

This was a fascinating interview, available below in two parts, via YouTube, and in it I had the opportunity to express my hope that, if given the opportunity, through the fall of the Gaddafi regime, the Libyan people will be able to rebuild their country, even though the necessary institutions are less evident in Libya than in Tunisia and Egypt, given the tribal nature of the country and Gaddafi’s obsession with accruing all power to himself and his family.

Even so, the fall of Gaddafi is not yet assured. The dictator made a defiant appearance in Tripoli yesterday, in which he vowed to “open all the arsenals,” and his security forces opened fire on anti-government protesters after prayers on Friday. On the February 17 Voices audioboo channel, a woman in Tripoli described how government forces pursued protesters into their homes to kill them, and also claimed that the dead had been buried immediately by Gaddafi’s soldiers in an attempt to cover up their atrocities.Nevertheless, the Guardian reported today that anti-government protests were continuing across Libya, and that in Tripoli “protesters are reported to have taken control of some areas of the city.”

In addition, defections from the regime “seemed to be accelerating,” according to the Guardian, which noted, “Envoys to Portugal and Sweden renounced Gaddafi, with the ambassador to Lisbon, Ali Ibrahim Emdored, telling AP he was leaving ‘due to the killing of my people by this fascist regime,'” and in Geneva, the Libyan delegation to the UN Human Rights Council (which stated that it “strongly condemns the recent gross and systematic human rights violations committed in Libya”, and called for Libya’s membership to be revoked) asked for a moment of silence in the chamber to “honour this revolution.” One envoy, Adel Shaltut, whose contribution “drew thunderous applause,” declared, “We in the Libyan mission have categorically decided to serve as representatives of the Libyan people and their free will. We only represent the Libyan people.”

In my interview, I was particularly concerned to express to Ernest my belief that, if Gaddafi falls, countless capable Libyans, currently in exile, will, if possible, be delighted to return to their home country to help rebuild it, and also to express my hope that, with no Islamist bogeyman for the West to pin its fears on, and to cynically incorporate into the “War on Terror,” as has been the case since the 9/11 attacks (and with particular cynicism in Libya), the globally connected young people, and the professional people who are already beginning to reshape Benghazi and other towns and cities, will be able to construct a new Libya, and will not be prevented from doing so by Western powers who will end up sacrificing them yet again, supporting dictators to protect their precious business interests and their distorted security concerns.

Ernest was not hopeful about this, but although the international community has been generally preoccupied with evacuating its citizens from Libya, condemnation of the regime — however hypocritical in some cases — has been reasonably swift. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, was the first world leader to openly demand Gaddafi’s capitulaltion, the European Union agreed to freeze the assets of those connected to the regime and to impose an arms embargo, President Obama issued an executive order seizing assets and blocking any deals regarding property in the US belonging to Gaddafi or his sons, and made a statement specifying that the measures were targeted against the Gaddafi government and not the wealth of the Libyan people, and today the UN Security Council will meet again to decide what action to take against Gaddafi, whch, as the Guardian explained, “could include an arms embargo against the government, a travel ban and asset freeze against the Libyan ruler, his relatives and close allies, and referring the violent crackdown to the International Criminal Court so it can investigate possible crimes against humanity.”

The Guardian also reported that the British, the leading hypocrites when Gaddafi came onside in the “War on Terror,” as I explained in my article, Revolution in Libya: Protestors Respond to Gaddafi’s Murderous Backlash with Remarkable Courage; US and UK Look Like the Hypocrites They Are, were “contacting senior Libyan regime figures directly to persuade them to desert Muammar Gaddafi or face trial alongside him for crimes against humanity.”

My hope — as it has been since the Tunisian people first rose up against their dictator, Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, followed by the Egyptian people against Hosni Mubarak — is that the hunger of the Libyan people for a new life is so strong, and involves so many people, that backsliding and betrayals on the part of the West will not be possible, and that we really are seeing the beginning of a new world order — one shaped by the people, and not by the corporations, bankers and governments who have done so much to oppress the people of the Middle East.

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, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, 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.

Is This the Endgame for Gaddafi’s Murderous Regime in Libya?

Outside Libya, as the third sustained revolution to engulf North Africa — and the bloodiest by far — continues to rage, some reactions are predictable. The world’s powerbrokers are fretting about the increased price of oil and evacating their workers, and President Obama’s response has been sensibly muted, unlike that of David Cameron, who, like the arrogant two-faced public schoolboy he is — playing at being a world leader — flew into Egypt on Monday in the company of a bevy of British arms dealers, and, ever since, has delivered a series of contradictory statements that rival the hallucinatory ramblings of Colonel Gaddafi, who has been blaming the Libyan revolution on al-Qaeda and Nescafé spiked with drugs. In swift succession, Cameron positively endorsed selling arms to dictators in the Middle East, saying that opponents of Britain’s arms trade were “completely at odds with reality,” and then, demonstrating how completely at odds with reality he is, apologized for propping up dictatorships in the Middle East, saying, as the Guardian put it, that “Britain was wrong to prop up ‘highly controlling regimes’ as a way of ensuring stability” — although he failed, of course, to mention how, in its eagerness to secure access to Libya’s oilfields for British companies, the previous goverment — with the full support of the Tories — had treated political opponents of the regime as pawns in a cynical game, holding them as “terror suspects,” and including them in a false narrative of the “War on terror,” as I explained in a recent article, Revolution in Libya: Protestors Respond to Gaddafi’s Murderous Backlash with Remarkable Courage; US and UK Look Like the Hypocrites They Are.

In Libya itself, there is no room for reflection on the hypocrisy of whey-faced imbeciles like David Cameron, as the regime and its opponents continue to be engaged in a bloody battle for control of the country. Below, I cross-post an excellent article by the Guardian‘s Martin Chulov, the first Western journalist to visit the eastern city of Benghazi, where the revolution began just days ago, and where, as he explained, government buildings have been looted and butrned, and Gaddafi’s soldiers have defected en masse, and where, as he reported today, “a makeshift organising committee of judges, lawyers and other professionals” is now running the city, sending young people out “to direct traffic and restore basic order.” A high court lawyer, Amal Bagaigis, told Chulov, “We started just as lawyers looking for our rights and now we are revolutionaries, and we don’t know how to manage. We want to have our own face. For 42 years we lived with this kind of barbarianism. We now want to live by ourselves.” A follow-up article by Chulov, examining how lawyers, doctors and engineers are attempting “to take the city’s destiny into their hands,” is also cross-posted below.

Over the last few days, Gaddafi’s embattled regime has suffered blow after blow, even as the dictator has responded with brute force, gunning down protestors, and bringing in mercenaries to do the killing that the military, it seems, is increasingly unwilling to do. Politically, “Libyan and Arab sources said the biggest blow to Gaddafi so far had been the defection of his interior minister and veteran loyalist, Abdel-Fatah Younes al-Obeidi,” who, as the Guardian explained, “called on the army on Tuesday to ‘serve the people and support the revolution and its legitimate demands.'”

Other notable defectors include the justice minister, Mustafa Mohamed Abud Jalil, who revealed that Gaddafi had “personally ordered the Lockerbie bombing,”  Ahmed Gadhaf al-Dam, a cousin of Gaddafi’s and formerly one of his closest aides, who “announced on Thursday that he had defected to Egypt in protest against the bloody crackdown,” as the New York Times described it, Youssef Sawan, who, expressing “dismay against violence,”, resigned as the director of the Gaddafi International Charitable Foundation run by Saif al-Islam (Gaddafi’s supposedly moderate, reformist son, who has, nevertheless, been stoutly defending the regime in recent days), Ali al-Sahouli, a senior figure in the revolutionary committees, and numerous diplomats around the world.

In addition, defence minister General Abu-Bakr Yunis Jaber, who is also the commander of the army, was put under house arrest, and Major General Suleiman Mahmoud, the army commander in Tobruk, defected. Al-Jazeera reported that he said, “We are on the side of the people. I was with him [Gaddafi] in the past but the situation has changed — he’s a tyrant.” Other military units also defected, and it was also reported that a batallion of Gaddafi’s special forces had attacked Gaddafi’s revolutionary guard in Benghazi.

This was perhaps the most significant news in terms of a military defection, because, as the New York Times explained, Gaddafi always kept the Libyan military too “weak and divided” to turn on him effectively, relying instead on “an elaborate paramilitary force — accompanied by special segments of the regular army that report primarily to his family,” which was “designed to check the army and in part to subdue his own population.” The Times added, “At the top of that structure is his roughly 3,000-member revolutionary guard corps, which mainly guards him personally,” plus militia units controlled by his seven sons, and, perhaps most significantly, the force of “about 2,500 mercenaries from countries like Chad, Sudan and Niger that he calls his Islamic Pan African Brigade,” hastily recalled from Sudan and other countries, who appear to have been at the forefront of the killings, with at least a thousand people so far presumed to have been killed.

Speaking from the east of the country, Al-Jazeera correspondent Hoda Abdel-Hamid said that, all along the border, “we didn’t see one policeman, we didn’t see one soldier and people here told us they [security forces] have all fled or are in hiding and that the people are now in charge, meaning all the way from the border, Tobruk, and then all the way up to Benghazi.” She added, “People tell me it’s also quite calm in Bayda and Benghazi. They do say, however, that ‘militias’  are roaming around, especially at night. They describe them as African men, they say they speak French so they think they’re from Chad.”

In terms of the struggle for control of the country, with Benghazi and the east in the revolutionaries’ hands, protests spread to the port of Misurata, Libya’s third-largest city, to the nearby town of Sirte, Gaddafi’s home town, where, as the Guardian explained, “a key tribe has reportedly come out in support of what is being called the 17 February revolution,” and to Sebrata and Zawiya in the west. Al-Jazeera also reported that, in the Azzintan and Nalut areas, also in the west of the country, the tribes had come out against Gaddafi, and that they had taken over control of the area’s oil facilities.

Today it was reported that Misurata had fallen to the revolution, with one resident, Abdul Basit Imzivig, telling the Guardian that “regime forces had fled overnight and the city was in opposition hands.” Despite a claim that pro-Gaddafi forces had launched a counter-attack, lawyers and judges said in a statement issued through the Internet that they were in control of the city, and that they had removed agents of the “oppressive regime” with help from “honest” military officers.

The Guardian also reported that all the oilfields in the south of the country had fallen to the revolutionaries, and Moustafa Raba’a, a mechanical engineer with the Sirte oil company, said that production had been closed down “to send a message to Gaddafi to stop the slaying of our people in Benghazi. We made a decision to deny him the privilege of exporting oil and gas to Europe.”

The key to Gaddafi’s overthrow, of course, is Tripoli, the capital, where, if the Guardian is correct, his influence is “confined to parts of the capital and steadily shrinking.” The Los Angeles Times reported that protesters “plan a huge rally in Tripoli after Friday prayers,” and around the capital, the noose appears to be tightening. Zuara, 75 miles to the west, has reportedly fallen to the revolution, although, as the Los Angeles Times also reported, “Foreign residents fleeing the city emerged with grim tales of fighting in the streets.” Hassan Sheikh, an Egyptian laborer fleeing for the Tunisian border, said, “The situation there is very bad. There is no mercy there. They killed many people.” Other witnesses said that “armed militiamen [had] roamed the streets, killing people with guns and swords.”

There were also reports of clashes in the town of Az-Zawiyah, just 30 miles west of Tripoli, where, according to the New York Times, “government opponents had briefly claimed victory,” until Gaddafi’s forces forces — “a mixture of special brigades and African mercenaries — fought back, blasting a mosque that had been used as a refuge by protesters.” A Libyan exile heard that Gaddafi’s forces began their attack at about 5 am, and that the ensuing battle lasted four hours, and led to the death of around 100 rebels, who were armed only with hunting rifles.

Below are Martin Chulov’s reports from Benghazi.

Inside Libya’s first free city: jubilation fails to hide deep wounds
Martin Chulov, The Guardian, February 23, 2011

At the heart of the city where he launched his rise to power, Muammar Gaddafi’s indignity is now complete. In little more than three days of rampage, the rebels in Libya’s second city have done their best to wind the clock back 42 years –- to life before the dictator they loathe.

Benghazi has fallen and Gaddafi’s bid to cling on to power, whatever the cost, has crumbled with it. There is barely a trace of him now, except for obscene graffiti that mocks him on the dust-strewn walls where his portraits used to hang.

Residents who would not have dared to approach the town’s main military base without an invitation were doing victory laps around it in their cars. Every barrack block inside had been torched and looted. The stage where Gaddafi would address the masses on the rare occasions that he came here had collapsed. His house across the road had been ransacked and there wasn’t a loyalist soldier inside.

“He is gone. A dragon has been slain,” cried Ahmed Al-Fatuuir outside the secret police headquarters. “Now he has to explain where all the bodies are.”

The Middle East’s longest ruling autocrat seems disinclined to do that, or to go quietly. His rambling speech on Tuesday night, in which he vowed to die in his homeland as a “martyr”, has convinced many in Benghazi that although they may have ousted their foe from eastern Libya, they have not seen the last of the bloodshed.

At the city’s hospitals, administrators are still tallying the toll from the most savage fighting seen here in decades. At the al-Jala hospital, at least 65 deaths have been recorded since 17 February, along with dozens of injuries, many of them horrific. And they are still coming in.

A Libyan soldier, who along with many of his colleagues had joined the anti-government insurgency, was pronounced dead as the Guardian arrived inside the overworked intensive care unit. A small bullet wound near his right kidney had caused irreversible chaos inside his body.

“They are still out there,” said the doctor who pronounced him dead. “These mercenaries who are hired by Gaddafi are lurking in the shadows.”

Wherever they are hiding, they must be running out of arms. All day defecting troops and officers were lugging in thousands of pounds of ammunition to a courtyard inside the secret police headquarters on Bengazi’s waterfront. By the day’s end an arsenal that could easily supply an army brigade was piled up. There were plastic explosives, rockets, machine guns and even the anti-aircraft weapon that was used to mow down demonstrators as they assaulted the military base on Sunday.

Evidence of the carnage it caused was clear on the walls of nearby buildings and in the mortuaries. Doctors had used their mobile phones to capture the carnage that was caused by military weapons on human flesh. And they coolly displayed the aftermath of the battle, denouncing Gaddafi as a criminal as they did so.

Nearby Filipino orderlies were putting the finishing touches to the short life of a dead soldier, washing his body with a clinical calm and slowly readying a green body bag. It was a process they were clearly familiar with. ” Too many times, too many times,” said one orderly as he rested on a trolley. “It has been terrible in here.”

At least 232 demonstrators in Benghazi are believed to have been killed since the uprising began and up to 1,000 injured. There are no reliable figures on the number of soldiers or mercenaries killed during the assault of the barracks, or in the hours of chaos that followed.

One thing that is clear is that this was not a peaceful stroll through the streets of Bahrain, as has largely been the case on the other side of the Arabian peninsula. This was a savage rampage on both sides, a blood and guts revolution, fuelled by decades of repression, neglect and rage. There has been nothing peaceful about it.

Testimony to the protesters’ vehemence is dotted all around the base, in the form of bulldozers stolen from nearby worksites that were used to breach the walls. At least six of them stand burned and mangled near where their work had been successfully done — gaping holes in whitewashed walls that allowed protesters to storm through.

“That is where the anti-aircraft gun was and that is where all the African mercenaries were found dead,” said Mohamed Fatah, who was part of the throng that attacked the base. “The people were leading a funeral march past the big roundabout and people from inside the base opened fire,” he said. “They went home, gathered themselves and came back. This is what happened.”

Gaddafi’s reported use of mercenaries appears to have tipped the hand of many protesters and armed forces. “That is why we turned against the government,” said air force major Rajib Feytouni. “That and the fact that there was an order to use planes to attack the people.”

Workers at an oil refinery 120 miles west of Benghazi said that they had seen an air force jet crash nearby and two parachutes land. There were widespread reports that those on board had refused to carry out an order to attack the east of the country.

The reports could not be independently verified. However, Feytouni confirmed that an air force base to the east had been hit on Sunday by two bombs dropped from a jet. “They were trying to make sure that the weapons did not end up in the hands of the opposition,” he said.

He added that he had personally witnessed 4,000-5,000 mercenaries flown into his air force base on Libyan military transport planes, beginning on about 14 February — several days before the uprising started.

“They [the planes] had 300 men at a time, all of them coming out with weapons,” he said. “They were all from Africa: Ghanaians, Kenyans.”

Several of the alleged soldiers of fortune are being held in a jail at the top of the ransacked courthouse on Benghazi’s corniche. One was briefly brought to meet the Guardian. He was quickly ushered away by lawyers who said he was not allowed to speak until the case against him was finished.

But the court of public opinion on the heaving street below had already convicted the unnamed African, along with anyone else linked to what they believe are the dying days of 42 years of sadistic oppression. There was no sign of any pro-regime figures. And even those who have recently defected, such as the country’s justice minister, are not prepared to show their faces publicly, fearing the reactions from a combustible street.

The mood of people fluctuated easily between nervousness and violence; warmth and zeal. The first western reporters seen in the city since law and order collapsed were embraced almost as liberators. At some points during the morning and at the hospital, it was difficult to move without people eagerly thrusting in our faces more macabre images of dead people or missing relatives.

“His time will come,” said one man brandishing a simple sign that said in English: “Freedom for Libya”. He added: “You are welcome here. The world needs to see what is happening.”

Along the long and winding way from the Salum crossing from Egypt, there was not an official to be seen.

Neighbourhood Watch-like groups, all armed with AK-47s, manned checkpoints in and out of all the towns. But every military and police post for 360 miles had been abandoned. The scattering of the police was leading to claims of victory and the feeling of triumphalism among many of the city’s young people.

The deathly emptiness of a rainy morning in a city under siege had by dusk given way to teaming streets and jubilant cheers. Celebratory burst from AK-47s cracked into the air thoughout the afternoon — always a disconcerting sound in a war zone.

The jubilation did little to hide Benghazi’s wounds, though. Here, more than in the capital, Tripoli, or Gaddafi’s other strongholds, mainly in the west, society remains brutalised and stagnant, a drab decaying old-order feel, much like Iraq in 2004.

“Here hospitals are nothing like in Tripoli,” said an intensive care nurse who identified herself as Fatima. “It is first world there, but we have to make do.”

It’s the same with government buildings — what remains of them. There is barely a typewriter left, let alone a computer or the basic tools of administration.

Neglect had been a clear strategy for Gaddafi for a city that had in 1969 deeply resented the coup he launched against the monarch, King Idris, and has not forgiven him since. The independent flag last flown 42 years ago has become a prominent symbol of this revolution. It flies above key government buildings and even hospitals and it is worn as a badge by most organisers.

Benghazi feels Libya’s time has come. Residents are adamant that the leader who forgot them has days, or perhaps weeks, left as president. “He can’t survive and he won’t survive,” one man shouted outside the courthouse. “He is deluded and he is cruel. He will attack us again even though everyone knows he is finished.”

The city has little sense of what is happening in the west of the country where Gaddafi still appears to be in control of at least large parts of the capital.

Meanwhile, many of the 1.5 million foreigners still in Libya are scrambling for the border, or waiting from help from their governments. Several passenger ferries are waiting in the choppy waters off the coast of Benghazi for any evacuation order. And the Salum border crossing to Egypt is a chaotic scramble of fleeing Egyptians who overran the arrival hall on Tuesday evening as the Guardian was trying to enter Libya. Riot police were moved into position but weren’t used.

The international community again appears hamstrung by the man it had spent decades trying to rehabilitate. Leverage is limited and options are few.

“The people of the international community had been helping their governments to help the assassin,” said an orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Shakir, in al–Jala hospital. “And that only because the assassin and his government is helping them. That is a flawed logic.”

So far reactions to the gathering storm here, which may soon lead to the overthrow of the third Arab autocrat in less than three months, has been to renounce the volatile leader and the compulsive savagery he is launching as his legacy melts away.

But there remains a gnawing fear that the worst may be yet to come. “Of course it is true,” Saad Achmed, a 24-year-old student, said. “If he feels he is cornered he will come for us. Those roads you came in on may be clear, but you did not see who is hiding over the hills? We have won the big battle, but that does not mean the war is won just yet.”

Benghazi the nerve centre as Libya protest turns to revolution
Martin Chulov, The Guardian, February 24, 2011

The nerve centre of Libya’s revolution is an anxious place indeed. At the heart of Benghazi’s courthouse, a building that claimed to stand for justice through Gaddafi’s reign, groups of civilian professionals — lawyers, doctors, surgeons and engineers — find themselves at the heart of the movement that is throwing off his despotic yoke.

“We decided to protest last week, for our rights,” a lawyer told the Guardian. “And suddenly everything changed. It turned from a protest to a revolution. We don’t have any experience in this,” she said.

All around her people swirled with documents, mobile phones and momentous news from afar. The town of Zawya fell today, a messenger rushed in to say. Shortly afterwards came word of Masrat, a city halfway to Tripoli that also seems to be falling to the rebels, then the three largest oil fields around Benghazi. The speed of events was staggering.

Five days after Benghazi was sacked, Libya seems to be falling quicker than anyone in Benghazi expected, or prepared for. History has overtaken those who find themselves running the revolt. “And it’s causing me a lot of stress,” said the lawyer. “We are worried about the people in Tripoli, food and other supplies. We need to co-ordinate everything. There is a lot of responsibility.”

Her colleague Amal Bagaigis agreed. “We started just as lawyers looking for our rights and now we are revolutionaries. And we don’t know how to manage. We want to have our own face. For 42 years we have this kind of babarianism. We now want to live.”

Almost a week after a series of rolling demonstrations became a full-blown revolt, the country’s detested old guard now seems confined to a shrinking region near the capital. Gaddafi’s grinding reign is widely despised and openly mocked, and the ruined part of the country that has freed itself of him is very much in the mood for re-invention.

“We could be anything now,” said one man outside the courthouse where the overwrought professionals upstairs were trying to usher the revolution westwards. “He kept us down because he didn’t want anyone to threaten him. That’s how despots have always worked. When Libyans get a chance to achieve things, we can be the best in the region.”

Thousands gather on the road outside the courthouse each day. By night their numbers swell at least tenfold. Here, wedged between the storm-tossed Mediterranean and a building that once stood as a pillar of the regime, they chant anti-regime slogans, fire guns into the air and hold two fingers skywards in Churchillian “V for Victory” style.

The people are clearly looking for direction from the city’s new custodians. And they seem more confident than the professionals are in their ability to get things done.

“This city has a good spirit,” said Ahmed al-Sereti, on the rain-soaked street below. “Everyone is doing what they can to make sure things don’t slip backwards. There has been no stealing, no looting [apart from government offices, all of which have been sacked]. And people know that this event has changed everything.”

The primary concern in Benghazi has been security. But with eager youths manning traffic lights and residents patiently queuing outside banks in the vain hope that they may open soon, there is no sign of frustration or fear. Relief and euphoria seem to be driving this place. The people’s awareness that Benghazi’s destiny is in their own hands for the first time in four decades is clearly empowering.

“I came back three months ago,” said Haithem Gheriani, an Irish-trained surgeon. “And I’m really glad I did. To find myself at the centre of an event in my own country that is so important, so liberating, is a terrific feeling.”

Gheriani pitches in at the courthouse, along with oil engineers and businessmen, many of them returned expatriates. Several floors above them, three of Gaddafi’s ill-fated mercenaries are locked up in what used to be a holding cell. Hollow-eyed and horrified, their futures seem bleak. “They are kept here for their own safety,” said Gheriani. “If we let them go the people would kill them,” he said, pointing at the milling crowd in the street below.

The erratic leader who recruited them, just over a week ago, on Thursday seemed to be at the verge of losing total control of the country. His grasp on sanity was again also in question. In a third address on state television, he blamed al-Qaida for inciting the rebellion and called on Libyans to rehabilitate wayward children who had joined the fray.

“The power is in your hands,” Gaddafi said. “It is a different system here [compared with Tunisia, or Egypt]. If you want change the advantage is with you. It is your choice. You can put people on trial, you can change your job.

“This is unacceptable, unbelievable. People claim that they are intelligent; teachers, engineers. If they are reasonable people with reasonable demands, just ask them what they want. But they are not reasonable. They have been dictated to by Bin Laden.”

Gaddafi did not appear on video, raising questions about where he is now as towns around the capital steadily fall into rebel hands. Zawya to the west of Tripoli was the scene of fighting between opposition groups and the regime that left scores dead, local officials said. In further bad news for Gaddafi, leading members of his own tribe have denounced him, and in particular the brutal crackdown he ordered on dissenters in the east of the country that led to Benghazi being lost.

“They started this protest peacefully,” said Gheriani. “And the youths joined them. And then when Gaddafi started killing them the people rose up.”

That version of Libya’s fast-moving revolution is echoed by most people spoken to by the Guardian over the past two days; a series of protests inspired by uprisings elsewhere in the region that were met by prescribed savagery.

That much seems formulaic in a regime that has shown no tolerance for dissent since 1969. However, the next phase was not in the script. “We all just decided we had had enough,” said Qais al-Ibrahim. “We felt that this was just too much and the people attacked the bases and the government. But to see things fall the way they did was astonishing.”

Another lawyer, Abdul Salam al-Masmari, said the savage over-reach of Gaddafi’s forces on Saturday was a final straw. “We started hearing about all the killings and we didn’t want to stay here demonstrating in front of the court. It was a chilling moment, a powerful moment. That’s when we knew we had to make this push for freedom.”

As the lawyer was speaking to us, security officers inside the court arrested a local reporter who they suspected was a spy for the remaining regime elements in Benghazi. He was taken to the same prison cell where the alleged mercenaries are held. The event left nerves even more frayed.

“The revolution is four days old,” said the female lawyer. “The fence of fear has been broken. But we still need to protect ourselves. The regime will find whatever way they can to reach us. He has all of our names and thoughts in a notebook and he has my voice on tape. He is not a real journalist. Collaborators are still out there. That’s why I don’t want to give you my name.”

Throughout the afternoon, there didn’t seem to be much strategic organising going on. But nor did there need to be. One by one, reports came in of towns falling like dominoes on the long march to Tripoli. The revolution seems to be self-fulfilling. Help keeps pouring in from unlikely sources.

“One of the regime’s key figures in the area came to see us today,” the female lawyer said. “He said he is with us now.”

Did she believe him?

“Not really,” she said. “But he has done his calculations and he can see that we are winning strongly. He will be loyal to where the strength is.”

On Libyan television the father of a defecting air force pilot wept with pride as he explained the exploits of his son, who had been sent to bomb three oilfields near Benghazi. The father’s account confirms those reported by workers at the Bregga oilfield of two men parachuting to earth and a jet fighter crashing nearby.

“My son was ordered to take off by a man with a gun pointing at his back. He said no and pulled the lever to eject them both. He is a hero. Even if he died I would still be proud. He refused to kill the people.”

Across town at the army base, which fell to swarming demonstrators on Sunday, a dungeon has been unearthed. It is not far from Gaddafi’s former parade ground, which lies in a crumpled heap. Today fathers were taking their children through the site, a heavily concreted underground hole that showed signs of recent use. “People were tortured here last week,” said one father. “It used to be the most feared place in town. Now it’s for everyone to see. It shows how bad he was and how lucky we are.”

Change has been rapidly embraced in Benghazi. In less than four days a new radio station has opened, called Freedom Radio, and a new newspaper has hit the streets. A revolutionary song recorded in recent days is on high rotation and bandanas in the colour of the former independence flag are worn.

However the rapid succession of events seems perhaps a little too fast for the revolution’s organisers. “I am really stressed about this,” said the female lawyer. “We are sleeping three hours a night, we are not seeing our families and we cannot get too far ahead of ourselves. One step at a time, we keep telling people. But they are really proud and enthusiastic. The trouble is this is not over yet. Tripoli is our capital, yesterday, today and tomorrow. That is our goal.”

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, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, 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.

Habeas Hell: How the Great Writ Was Gutted at Guantánamo

For the US attorneys who represent prisoners in Guantánamo, and who have spent many years seeking justice for their clients, it has been a long, and generally disappointing road. After triumph in June 2004, when, in Rasul v. Bush, the Supreme Court granted the prisoners habeas corpus rights, allowing them to meet their clients for the first time and to begin preparing their habeas corpus petitions, there were major setbacks in the years that followed.

In the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 and the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (PDF), Congress purported to strip the prisoners of their rights, freezing the habeas litigation until June 2008, in Boumediene v. Bush (PDF), when, revisiting the prisoners’ circumstances, the Supreme Court ruled that the habeas-stripping provisions in the DTA and the MCA were unconstitutional, and granted the prisoners habeas rights for the second time.

How the habeas litigation began promisingly

In the wake of Boumediene, the prisoners secured a number of significant victories in the District Court in Washington D.C., beginning with 17 Uighurs, Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province, who had their habeas petition granted in in October 2008, and five out of six Algerians, kidnapped in Sarajevo and rendered to Guantánamo in January 2002, who had their petitions granted in November 2008.

Even with the low burden of proof imposed on the government by the court — requiring them only to demonstrate, “by a preponderance of the evidence,” that the prisoners seeking release were involved with al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban — the prisoners continued to secure victories in significant numbers. Over the next 13 months, as the District Court judges — discussing amongst themselves the necessary conditions for ongoing detention, and generally concluding that the government had to demonstrate that the prisoners in question were part of the “command structure” of al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban (in other words, that they were to some extent involved in taking orders) — ten prisoners won their petitions, while eight others lost.

Even with these impressive results for the prisoners, doubts remained about the wisdom of the Supreme Court’s decision not to question the assumptions in the legislation that authorized the detention of the prisoners in the first place — the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress the week after the 9/11 attacks. This was because the AUMF — which authorized the President ” to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September11,2001,” or those who harbored them — failed to distinguish between al-Qaeda (a terrorist group) and the Taliban (the government of Afghanistan in 2001, however reviled internationally).

The result of this classification failure was that most of the eight prisoners who lost their habeas petitions were not accused of having any involvement with terrorism, but were, instead, nothing more than low-level Taliban foot soldiers (and in one case, a cook), who had been in Afghanistan fighting the Northern Alliance — or supporting that struggle — in the months before the 9/11 attacks, and had, therefore, only become embroiled in America’s war by default, when the conflict in Afghanistan morphed from a civil war into a “War on Terror” after the US-led invasion on October 6, 2001.

No one, however, showed any willingness to discuss whether it was fair to equate al-Qaeda with the Taliban, and to label both as a unique category of human being — “enemy combatants,” who, when that designation had been invented, were supposedly detainable forever, without any rights whatsoever. The only concession made by President Obama’s Justice Department was to drop the use of the term “enemy combatant,” which was a shrewd PR move, but did nothing to address the more fundamental problems outlined above.

How the D.C. Circuit Court fought back

However, while the first 15 months of habeas hearings resulted in 32 victories for the prisoners, against just nine for the government, and also, crucially, led to the eventual release of 25 of the men who had won their petitions, everything changed last year, beginning last January when the D.C. Circuit Court delivered a ruling on the first appeal resulting from the District Court’s decisions.

The case before the court was that of Ghaleb al-Bihani, the cook mentioned above, who had prepared food for Arab forces supporting the Taliban. Al-Bihani had lost his habeas petition during President Obama’s first month in office a year before, but when the Circuit Court considered his appeal, the panel of three judges not only upheld the original ruling, but two of them — Judge Janice Rogers Brown, supported by Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh — argued that the government had sweeping powers that should not be constrained by judges, claiming that it was “mistaken” for al-Bihani’s lawyers to argue that “the war powers granted by the AUMF and other statutes are limited by the international laws of war.”

This was too much for the third judge, Senior Circuit Judge Stephen F. Williams, who noted that his colleagues’ opinion was “hard to square with the approach that the Supreme Court took in Hamdi [v. Rumsfeld, a 2004 Supreme Court case regarding Guantánamo that established the government’s right to hold men detained under the AUMF].” Judge Williams quoted Justice Souter, who stated explicitly, “[W]e understand Congress’ grant of authority for the use of ‘necessary and appropriate force’ to include the authority to detain for the duration of the relevant conflict, and our understanding is based on longstanding law-of-war principles.”

It was also too much for the Obama administration, which noted in a brief that “The Government interprets the detention authority permitted under the AUMF as informed by the laws of war,” and on August 31 last year, seven out of the nine judges ruling on an appeal of the original Circuit Court ruling upheld the decision regarding al-Bihani’s detention, but effectively dismissed the claims about the limits of the international laws of war.

This was important, but Judge Janice Rogers Brown and Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh were not alone in wishing to fundamentally challenge the decisions made by District Court judges. In another appeal in June last year — that of Adham Ali Awad, a Yemeni amputee who had been handed over to Afghan forces by al-Qaeda fighters besieged in a hospital in Afghanistan in December 2001, and had lost his habeas petition in August 2009 — three different judges (Chief Judge David B. Sentelle, Judge Merrick B. Garland and Judge Laurence H. Silberman) dismissed the “command structure” requirement for detention accepted by the majority of the District Court judges, noting that it was not mentioned in the AUMF, and insisting that being “part of” al-Qaeda or the Taliban was sufficient to justify a prisoner’s ongoing detention.

Ths was a worryingly open-ended definition, of course, and it has, moreover, changed the course of the habeas litigation. Although four prisoners won their petitions between February and June 2010, and five prisoners lost (bringing the total to 36 victories for the prisoners, against 14 losses), just two prisoners have won their petitions since the Awad ruling, and the last seven rulings have all been in the government’s favor.

The latest victory for the government in the District Court — the case of Mashur al-Sabri

The last of these government victories — on February 5 — was in the case of Mashur al-Sabri (also identified as Mashour Alsabri), a 32-year old Yemeni, whose habeas petition was denied by Judge Ricardo Urbina. I have not yet had time to read Judge Urbina’s unclassified opinion (PDF) to analyze exactly how he reached his conclusion, but from the publicly available information about al-Sabri, it is clear that it would not have been difficult to conclude that he was “part of” al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban. As I explained in a profile of him in September:

According to the US authorities, al-Sabri traveled to Afghanistan in summer 2000, lived in Jalalabad for a year, and traveled on occasion to the Taliban lines at Bagram and Kabul. Quite what else he did is difficult to ascertain — not because there are no allegations, but because their trustworthiness is hard to gauge. According to various unidentified sources, in May 2001 he was working as a facilitator for new arrivals at two guest houses in Kabul, and was “well known and well respected as an administrator in the guest houses.” It was also noted that he “was said to facilitate the transfer of weapons and other supplies to the front lines,” and, most worryingly (or most outrageously, depending on your point of view), was accused of working for Osama bin Laden. According to the unidentified allegations, he was “believed to have sworn bayat to Osama bin Laden,” because he and others around him knew bin Laden’s travel dates and routes, and another “source” identified him as “a member of al-Qaeda,” because he was “following Osama bin Laden’s orders to keep the guest house up and running.”

These latter claims look suspicious, as they increase his significance through nothing more than innuendo, and without them, we are left, as so often, with a man consigned to indefinite detention at Guantánamo on the basis of nothing more than being involved, to some extent, in the Taliban’s military campaign against the Northern Alliance in the year before the 9/11 attacks.

As I mentioned above, this kind of role — as, essentially, an insignificant foot soldier in a military conflict in Afghanistan that preceded the 9/11 attacks, and that had nothing to do with international terrorism — dominates the cases of the men who have lost their habeas petitions, and I find it hard to see how they can be judged as any kind of success, as all they do is reinforce the notion that, in its “War on Terror,” the Bush administration successfully destroyed the Geneva Conventions, creating a parallel quasi-legal world in which soldiers are held indefinitely as “enemy combatants” rather than as prisoners of war.

In contrast, the few men in Guantánamo who are actually accused of involvement in terrorist activities either await federal court trials that may or may not ever happen, or are cutting plea deals in Military Commission trials that, if the administration honors its obligations, will see them released in the next few years, while the foot soldiers, the cook, a medic and a handful of pointessly detained Afghans rot in Guantánamo forever.

A legally flawed victory for the government in the D.C. Circuit Court — the case of Saeed Hatim

This is, moreover, not the end of the story. On February 15, a panel of Circuit Court judges took another step into dubious legal territory when they vacated the successful habeas petition of Saeed Hatim, another Yemeni, who had won his habeas petition in December 2009. As I explained at the time:

Hatim told his interrogators that he wanted to find a way to fight in Chechnya but concluded that he needed to train in Afghanistan. However, although he admitted attending the al-Farouq camp (associated with Osama bin Laden in the years before 9/11), he said that he “did not like anything about the training,” that he faked a fever so that he could leave the camp, and, after some time hanging around behind the Taliban’s front lines, made his way to the Pakistani border, where he surrendered to the Pakistani police, and was then handed over to US forces.

In granting Hatim’s habeas petitiion, Judge Ricardo Urbina refused even to analyze whether the government’s supposed evidence — which came almost entirely from Hatim’s own statements — demonstrated sufficient involvement in al-Qaeda and /or the Taliban to justify his detention, ruling instead that everything he had said was unreliable because of his unrefuted claims that he was subjected to torture and abuse in the US prison at Kandahar before his transfer to Guantánamo. In his unclassified opinion, Judge Urbina wrote:

Hatim’s unrefuted allegations of torture undermine the reliability of the statements made subsequent to his detention at Kandahar. Thus, the government faces a steep uphill climb in attempting to persuade the court that the petitioner’s detention is justified based on the allegation that he trained at al-Farouq, given that the sole evidence offered in support of that allegation is tainted by torture.

In addition, as I noted at the time:

Judge Urbina added that, even if Hatim had attended al-Farouq, there was “scant evidence” that he “actually participated in al-Qaeda’s command structure by receiving and executing orders,” and that this interpretation was reinforced by his departure from the camp, and also because no third-party witness “indicate[d] that [he] was even seen at al-Farouq, much less that he was seen following orders on al-Qaeda’s behalf.”

He then proceeded to dismiss claims that Hatim had participated in al-Qaeda’s command structure either behind the front lines or in the guesthouses in which he had stayed, concluding that “the government has offered the court an inherently flawed justification for detention.”

The only other information offered by the government as evidence — that Hatim had fought at Tora Bora, a showdown in December 2001 between al-Qaeda and their Taliban supporters, and a proxy Afghan army fighting for the US with back-up from US Special Forces — was also dismissed by Judge Urbina, on the basis that the prisoner who had made this statement “has exhibited an ongoing pattern of severe psychological problems while detained at GTMO,” and had, in fact, made false statements against 60 prisoners in total, which, despite their unreliability, are regularly used by Justice Department lawyers in the habeas litigation, where, to their credit, several District Court judges have picked up on them — and on statements made by other unreliable witnesses — and have dismmissed them outright.

However, when the government’s appeal came before the Circuit Court, Hatim was confronted by a panel of judges that included Senior Judge A. Raymond Randolph, another judge noted for his aggressive defense of the government’s right to hold whoever it wishes to hold, without much in the way of proof.

In July last year, Judge Randolph led a panel of judges that reversed the successful habeas petititon of another Yemeni, Mohammed al-Adahi, who had won his petition in August 2009. Al-Adahi, who was seized in Pakistan, had accompanied his sister to Afghanistan to marry a man who was undoubtedly connected to al-Qaeda, but Judge Gladys Kessler ruled that, despite this, al-Adahi himself had no connection to al-Qaeda, and granted his habeas petition. As I explained when al-Adahi’s successful petition was reversed:

There was abundant evidence to suggest that she was correct — primarily that he had never previously left Yemen, where he had a respectable job, that he was obliged to accompany his sister, who was not allowed to travel alone, and that he was kicked out of a training camp during his stay because he broke the rules by smoking — but when the government’s appeal came before a panel including Judge Randolph (notorious for endorsing every piece of Guantánamo-related legislation that was subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court), the Court reversed Judge Kessler’s ruling, with Judge Randolph describing it as “manifestly incorrect — indeed startling.”

In his ruling, Judge Randolph personally impugned Judge Kessler’s integrity, and also stated his belief that the low standard of proof required in the habeas cases — whereby the government only has to support its argument “by a preponderance of the evidence” — was actually too high. Judge Randolph’s intervention was not a legal requirement, but was still significant, as SCOTUSblog explained, noting that “even if the Justice Department did not now take the Circuit Court’s hint to propose a ‘some evidence’ standard for use in the remaining Guantánamo cases, the way the panel interpreted the preponderance standard would seem to ease the government’s burden of proof significantly.”

With Judge Randolph exercising his baleful influence, it was unsurprising that the Circuit Court vacated Saeed Hatim’s successful petittion, ordering it to be sent back for reconsideration by the District Court. With the case of Adham Ali Awad as a precedent, it was clear that Judge Urbina had not specifically addressed the question of whether Hatim had been “part of” al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban, rather than being involved in the “command structure” of either organization, although, in effect, it should have made no difference, as Judge Urbina refused to credit any of the government’s supposed evidence because of Hatim’s credible allegations that he was tortured.

The Circuit Court erroneously claims that “those who purposefully and materially support” al-Qaeda or the Taliban can be detained

However, in vacating Hatim’s successful petition, the Circuit Court went one step further, drawing on the Circuit Court’s January 2010 ruling in the case of Ghaleb al-Bihani to argue that even a demonstration that a prisoner was “part of” al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban was too high a hurdle. As the judges explained (PDF):

The district court ruled that the military could detain only individuals who were “part of” al-Qaida or the Taliban; and that Hatim did not fit that description. That ruling is directly contrary to Al-Bihani v. Obama, which held that “those who purposefully and materially support” al-Qaeda or the Taliban could also be detained. Hatim admits the error, but says it was harmless. We cannot see how.

Personally, I cannot see how this fundamentally undermines Hatim’s successful petition, as no evidence has been provided to overturn Judge Urbina’s conclusion that everything Hatim admitted was tainted by torture, but the ruling is deeply disturbing because, as the lawyer Steve Vladeck explained on his blog:

[T]he key here is the notion that anyone who “purposefully and materially support[s]” al-Qaeda or the Taliban can be detained indefinitely, whether or not they’re in any way affiliated with either group, and whether or not they come anywhere near the definition of a “belligerent” under international humanitarian law.

This is indeed troubling, as it moves the litigation far beyond questions about whether or not it is justifiable to hold soldiers indefinitely at Guantánamo, and takes us back to the darkest days of the Bush administration, when, in a memorable exchange in a US court, Deputy Associate Attorney General Brian Boyle responded to a question by Judge Joyce Hens Green — “If a little old lady in Switzerland gave money to a charity … and the money was passed to al-Qaeda, could she be held as an enemy combatant?” — by replying, “She could. Someone’s intention is clearly not a factor that would disable detention.”

In his blog post, Steve Vladeck dissected the rather complicated legal reasons why the Al-Bihani panel’s claim that “those who purposefully and materially support” al-Qaeda or the Taliban can be detained is wrong, but he was, understandably, concerned that other judges in the Circuit Court appeared to be unconcerned by the actions of a minority of their colleagues, asking:

As it becomes increasingly clear that a small but vocal minority of the D.C. Circuit (Judges Brown, Kavanaugh, and Randolph, in particular) will apparently find any way in any case to adopt holdings that (1) go beyond even what the government is asking for in these cases … and (2) are indefensible as a matter of law and logic, is anyone else on that court going to notice?

How the mainstream media are asleep, and the Justice Department is appealing successful Yemeni petitions for nakedly political reasons

As the dreams of habeas as a remedy for any of the Guantánamo prisoners now lie in ruins, this is a valid and important question, but its scope should be larger. Why, for example, is no one in the mainstream media concerned by these decisions that are “indefensible as a matter of law and logic,” and why is the Justice Department, under Attorney General Eric Holder, also unconcerned?

The answer to the first question appears to be that the mainstream media in the US is either unwilling or unable to address the importance of the Guantánamo habeas litigation, and the answer to the latter would have to be that Holder doesn’t care — and that, by extension, President Obama doesn’t care either.

The blunt truth, sadly, is that, throughout Obama’s Presidency, Eric Holder has failed to provide any advice or direction to the lawyers working on the Guantánamo habeas cases, allowing them to behave as though it was business as usual with Bush still in power. Ridiculous cases were aggressively pursued by government lawyers in the District Court in 2009, leading to several high-profile humiliations — in, for example, the cases of Mohammed El-Gharani, Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed, Abdul Rahim al-Ginco, Mohamed Jawad and Fouad al-Rabiah.

In the last year, as the Circuit Court’s most extreme judges have been pursuing their poisonous agenda, the Justice Department has shown no willingness to fight back (except on the point about the constraints of the international laws of war in Al-Bihani), and, in fact, seems to be delighted to have discovered that the Circuit Court will grant every government appeal that comes its way.

What makes this even more worrying is the perception that the Justice Department is not even necessarily appealing successful petitions on the basis of their merits, but is pursuing them with a political aim. Since last January, when President Obama announced a moratorium on releasing any Yemenis from Guantánamo — in response to the hysteria that greeted the news that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the failed Christmas 2009 plane bomber, had been recruited in Yemen — every successful habeas petition by a Yemeni (with the exception of Mohammed Hassan Odaini, a student whose clearly mistaken detention was picked up by the mainstream media) has been appealed.

This seems deeply suspicious to me, as the government has not only appealed the successful petition of Saeed Hatim, after Judge Urbina put forward a coherent argument that the entire case against him was dependant upon his torture, and on the testimony of a worthless witness, and that of Mohammed al-Adahi, whose guilt would seem to rest solely on the marriage of his sister, but has also appealed the successful petition of Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, who was cleared for release under the Bush administration, has severe mental health problems, and has attempted to commit suicide on a number of occasions.

Latif won his habeas petition after a hearing in which the government failed to demonstrate that he had lied about traveling to Pakistan, and then Afghanistan, in search of cheap medical treatment, but as with Saeed Hatim, Mohammed al-Adahi, and others Yemenis still held after winning their petititons, it seems that political expediency, rather than any notions of justice, is driving their ongoing detention, with a handful of rogue judges in the D.C. Circuit Court allowed to dictate the sort of detention policy that, in Guantánamo’s tenth year of operations, could have come straight out of briefings with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney at the height of the arrogance, disdain for the law and paranoia that informed the unique, and uniquely disturbing detention policies at Guantánamo.

That this is still happening now — and happening under President Obama and Eric Holder — ought to be a cause for alarm, and a wake-up call for the international community to redirect its attention to Guantánamo, if, as it appears, the United States itself has abandoned all notions of fairness and justice when it comes to the closure of the prison.

Note: For details of all the habeas cases ruled on in the US courts, see the dedicated page, Guantánamo Habeas Results: The Definitive List, which is regularly updated when new developments are announced.

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, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, 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.

Andy Worthington Discusses the “Political Prisoners” of Guantánamo on Antiwar Radio

It’s always a pleasure to vent some disgust about current affairs with Scott Horton of Antiwar Radio, and on our 23rd outing recently, which is available here, Scott asked me to run through the bleak scenario that prevails at Guantánamo, now that President Obama has given up on even pretending to close the prison, and 172 men remain held, possibly forever.

Scott had particularly wanted me to talk about the case of Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a Yemeni cleared for release under the Bush administration, who has serious mental health problems and has tried to commit suicide on several occasions, and the letters he has recently written from Guantánamo (see Guantánamo Is “A Piece of Hell That Kills Everything”: A Bleak New Year Message from Yemeni Prisoner Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, A Cry for Help from Guantánamo: Adnan Latif Asks, “Who Is Going to Rescue Me From the Injustice and the Torture I Am Enduring?” and Another Desperate Letter from Guantánamo by Adnan Latif: “With All My Pains, I Say Goodbye to You”).

Latif, who won his habeas corpus petition last summer, ought to be a free man by now, but, cynically, the Obama administration has chosen to appeal his successful petition, as, in fact, has happened with all the Yemenis who have won their habeas petitions (with one exception). The reason for this has nothing to do with justice, and everything to do with political expediency.

As I explained, appealing every successful Yemeni petition (to the right-wing D.C. Circuit Court, which is now dictating detention policies that would not have been out of place in the darkest days of the Bush administration) helps to reinforce the moratorium that President Obama issued last January, preventing the release of any Yemenis cleared for release by his own Guantánamo Review Task Force, which only came about because of a hysterical backlash to the discovery that the failed Christmas 2009 plane bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had been recruited in Yemen. As I have been explaining for some time, this is a demonstration of “guilt by nationality” on the part of the administration, and makes the cleared Yemenis who are still held into “political prisoners.”

I also spoke about the 31 men still held who have been cleared for release, but cannot be repatriated because of fears that they will face torture in their home countries (and who cannot be given new homes in the US because of the implacable opposition of Congress, the courts and Obama himself), and referred particularly to the five remaining Uighurs — out of the 17 who won their habeas petition in October 2008 — who are still held after turning down the offer of new homes in countries that they did not regard as safe, and who are currently appealing to the Supreme Court to allow them to be rehoused in the United States (for further information, see this Los Angeles Times editorial).

There was even more in our 19-minute interview, and I hope you have time to listen to it, as it’s always excellent to talk to Scott. This, by the way, is how Scott described the show:

Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files, discusses the end of whatever small chance there was of closing Guantánamo, though half the prisoners are cleared for release; the Obama administration’s continued moratorium on releasing Yemeni prisoners, based on political pressure dating from the 2009 Christmas Day attempted bombing; why the material support statute should give everyone pause, even those who don’t care about the plight of Guantánamo prisoners; and how the current SCOTUS composition (eight members when Elena Kagan recuses herself) guarantees gridlock on Guantánamo decisions, which will allow conservative circuit court judges to decide the law — not that Obama cares.

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, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, 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.

The Year of Revolution: The “War on Tyranny” Replaces the “War on Terror”

Ten years ago, in July 2001, 200,000 protestors converged on Genova, Italy, to disrupt the 27th G8 Summit, at which the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the UK and the US — plus the President of the European Commission — were meeting to discuss issues of global significance, including the debt burden of poor countries, world health issues, the environment and food security.

The 1990s in the West: The rise of the anti-globalization movement

For the protestors, gatherings of the world’s most powerful countries — or other organizations supporting the status quo on a global scale — were symbols of the dark forces of globalization, and meetings had been the focus of huge protests since June 18, 1999, when a Carnival Against Capital (also known as J18) was held in the City of London to coincide with a G8 summit in Köln, Germany. The J18 drew on a long tradition of protest dating back to the 1960s, but with particular reference to the anti-road protests, the Reclaim the Streets movement, and the protests against the Criminal Justice Act, which had galvanized dissenters in large numbers from the early 1990s, and which, in turn, were influenced by the travellers’ movement in the 1970s and the 1980s, and the anti-nuclear protests focused on Greenham Common and Molesworth.

While these movements had dealt with environmental issues, land reform, the seizure of public spaces and freedom from State oppression, they were largely national in focus. The J18, however, building on preliminary events in 1998 (an international meeting of grassroots activists in Geneva in February 1998, a Global Street Party in 20 different countries during the G8 summit in Birmingham in May, and an anti-World Trade Organization protest in Geneva that same month, when, elsewhere, 50,000 Brazilians participated in a “Cry of the Excluded” march, and 200,000 Indian farmers and fishermen took to the streets of Hyderabad demanding India’s withdrawal from the WTO), widened the scope of the protests, with actions taking place simultaneously in 43 countries around the world, and it crystallized into what became known as the anti-globalization movement, fundamentally challenging the unfettered transnational capitalism that underpinned State control and exploitation, and immediately becoming global in scale when protestors from all around the world converged on the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Seattle, in November 1999.

Between November 1999 and July 2001, protestors from around the world took aim at a succession of international meetings, including protests at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2000, at an IMF and World Bank summit in Prague in September 2000, at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City in April 2001, and in London on May Day 2001, when the British police first introduced “kettling.”

At Genova, however, the authorities fought back with lethal force. Three protestors had been shot and injured at protests outside a EU summit in Gothenburg in June 2001, but in Genova an Italian policeman shot and killed a 23-year-old activist, Carlo Giuliani, and the authorities’ determination to clamp down violently on the protests was also revealed through a series of nighttime raids on buildings housing protesters. At the Diaz Pascoli and Diaz Pertini schools, where protestors had established media centres that also provided medical and legal support, police raids left three activists, including British journalist Mark Covell, in comas. In total, over 60 people were severely injured, although a parliamentary inquiry later concluded that there had been no wrongdoing on the part of police.

However, elsewhere in the late 1990s and the start of the 21st century, the focus was not, as in the West, on an emerging youth movement challenging the financial status quo, and the continuing exploitation of the developing world by the world’s most powerful countries.

The 1990s in the Middle East: After the Communist “threat,” the West supports dictators against the Islamist “threat”

Across the Middle East, for example, a different narrative, with its roots in the colonial legacy and the Cold War, was developing. Fearful of socialist movements that would threaten their financial interests, the countries of the West had supported — or had helped install — brutal dictatorships whose continued oppression of their people prompted the rise of new resistance movements in which Communism gave way to militant offshoots of Islam. The West was particularly terrified by the Iranian revolution in 1979, which reinforced its determination to keep hardline Islamists at bay, but was generally less aware of how other factors were playing a major part in reshaping dissent throughout the Middle East.

Central to these new movements was the resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s (bankrolled, ironically, by the US, as well as by Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Gulf countries), as battle-hardened mujahideen returned to their home countries and saw the appeal of overthrowing their own dictators. However, they were also reinforced by violent clampdowns — in Egypt, for example, during the same period, and in Algeria in the 1990s, where the West precipitated an almost unbelievably bloody civil war by backing the military when Islamists threatened to win electoral victory in 1991 — and were also fed by the ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people by Israel, and, from 1991 onwards, by the presence on Saudi soil of US forces who refused to leave after helping to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein.

By 1996, Islamist dissent found its own almost unspeakably bloody reworking of the anti-globalization movement when al-Qaeda, a core movement of mujahideen, who, in the wake of the Afghan conflict, had become focused on the overthrow of regimes oppressing Muslims anywhere in the world, shifted its focus to the United States, under the leadershp of Osama bin Laden, and, perhaps most crucially, members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, who, like Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, seemed to have become unquenchably vengeful after being tortured in Egypt in the 1980s.

After attacking US interests in 1998 and 2000 (in the US embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam, and the attack on the USS Cole), al-Qaeda achieved its aim of drawing the US into a global war through the terrorist attacks on the US mainland on September 11, 2001.

The 2000s: The “War on Terror” and the complete demonization of Islamists — and of Islam

Overnight, the global landscape changed. Terrorism became the obsession of the first decade of the 21st century, an ill-defined war was launched in Afghanistan, another entirely illegal war followed in Iraq, and the US drew on the vilest detention policies of its brutal allies in the Middle East by establishing a global network of secret torture prisons, specifically utilizing the expertise of Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Syria and Uzbekistan, and also establishing its own torture prisons in Thailand, Poland, Romania and Lithuania, and in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Ironically, the US appears only to have fulfilled bin Laden’s aims, establishing a “clash of civilizations” that suited al-Qaeda’s global jihadists, with all their talk of infidel crusaders and Jews, and that also played on the worst instincts of supposedly Christian nations, who found that their old bogeyman — the Soviet Union — could effortlessly be replaced with a new one — fundamenalist Islam, or, more generally, Islam itself, with a timeline stretching back to the Crusades for those inclined to revel in a Manichean struggle between two branches of the Abrahamic religious tradition.

This has been a disaster for relations between Christians and Muslims worldwide, leading to widespread Islamophobia in Western countries and a rewriting of history, in which liberation struggles in Bosnia and Chechnya, for example, have been recast as terrorism, and any opposition to the dictators of the Middle East has also been regarded as terrorism — even when, as with Libya, for example, opponents of Gaddafi’s regime used to be considered as victims of oppression until Gaddafi strategically decided to become an ally in the “War on Terror.”

The impact of the “War on Terror” has been no less ruinous in Muslim countries, where there has been widespread anger and indignation, and untold numbers of Muslims have, correctly, perceived that the hundreds of thousands of civilians killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the thousands of people brutalized in Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere are — or were — all Muslims, and that, therefore, something akin to a modern Crusade must indeed be taking place.

2011: The “War Against Tyranny”; People Power banishes the Islamist threat, anti-globalization returns, and the West and the Middle East have a common enemy

Suddenly, however, the landscape has changed again, as popular uprisings across the Middle East fundamentally challenge the assumptions of the “War on Terror” — that dictators are needed more than ever to restrain the fundamentalists who, otherwise, would be establishing their own barbarous regimes and, of course, threatening Western interests.

In Tunisia and Egypt, where the dictators Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak were deposed, and in other countries where the people are rising up against their long-established dictators — primarily Libya, where Gaddafi has responded with typical brutality, and Algeria and Yemen, plus Iran, where the regime may not technically be a dictatorship, although it exhibits all the brutality associated with unaccountable authoritarian regimes — the movements that were triggered by the single self-immolation of a Tunisian man, Mohamed Bouazizi, on December 19 last year, are driven not by Islamist groups, but by the people, who are demonstrating that dictatorships can be toppled by sheer numbers.

Throughout the region, young people, who have known nothing but dictatorship, are rising up, forming alliances with trade unionists and disgruntled professionals, while the Islamists have either been content to stay in the background (as with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt) or, like Ennahdha in Tunisia, were largely imprisoned or in exile when the revolution that toppled Ben Ali took place.

If the Islamists had been centre-stage, I have no doubt that the West’s response to the popular revolutionary movements spreading throughout the Middle East would have been very different, as Western leaders would have been able to insert them into their tired “War on Terror” narrative. As it is, however, Western leaders have generally had to mouth platitudes about democracy and the will of the people, while refusing to become too engaged, as they are presumably aware that, for decades, their actions have actually demonstrated that they have no interest whatsoever in the welfare of the people of the Middle East, and that they have, instead, supported the very dictators who have either fallen or are now clinging onto power.

Moreover, the revolutionary zeal in the Middle East, which is inspired by economic desperation and the enduring misery of living in police states run by Western-backed torturers, is also reflected in the stirrings of popular dissent in the West. Just as an economic tipping point may have been reached in the Middle East through the manipulation of global food prices by Western speculators, protestors in the West are also beginning to revolt against the criminals of the unfettered financial markets, who have been allowed to continue their disgraceful global pillaging, despite causing the economic meltdown of 2008, and despite being bailed out by taxpayers. In some ways, the revolt in the West has involved young people picking up the baton of the anti-globalization movement, which has only sporadically made its presence felt in the last ten years.

Leading the way is the UK, prompted in particular by the activities of the Tory-led coalition government, which, despite having no mandate (with the Tories obliged to forge an aliance with the Liberal Democrats) and despite both parties having lied or omitted to mention their policies on the election trail, is now pampering the financial markets to an unprecedented degree, aiming to make the UK into the world’s largest tax haven, while introducing swingeing cuts to government spending, using the financial crisis as an excuse.

In its attacks on welfare, on university funding, on the NHS, and on almost every aspect of the British state that has not been privatized in the last 30 years, the government seems to delight in its plans to make as many people unemployed as possible, while cushioning its friends — and funders — in the City and in big business. However, although the response so far has generally been muted (with the exception of the students and schoolchildren who took to the streets last November and December), a widespread anger is just below the surface, and the rise of new protest groups — in particular UK Uncut, a direct action group that is focused unerringly on corporate tax avoiders and the banking sector, and that has just spawned a rapidly spreading offshoot in the US — indicates that the British government’s vile, ideological assault on the British people (with the exception of the rich and the super-rich) is likely to meet with increasing resistance.

I don’t mean to suggest that there will be revolutions in the West — as I think citizens of Western countries are too self-absorbed or diverted from the truth to notice what is happening until it is too late — but I do believe that, perhaps for the first time in living memory (or at least since 1990’s Poll Tax Riot), a substantial number of people believe that the government should be forced from power rather than be allowed to pursue its destructive agenda until the next election in 2015.

Moreover, with variations on the British story taking place throughout the West — with bankers unpunished, corporations systematically avoiding tax, austerity measures introduced that will only impact on those who had nothing to do with the economic crisis, and the gap between the rich and the poor widening still further from its current historic levels — all the elements are in place for the people of the West and the Middle East — and wherever else popular dissent erupts — to find that they share a common narrative, one which involves resistance to the relentless exploitation by the few, to enrich themselves still further at everyone else’s expense, and, when these forces are challenged, repression, be it through military means, arbitary detention and torture, or supposedly legitimate legislation, in which the magic words “choice” and “fairness” are meant to disguise the last push of a privatization agenda that seeks to destroy the final vestiges of the State’s responsibility for its people.

By now, with its lies and unaccountability exposed time and again, the push to privatize everything by playing on aging scare stories about the dangers of socialism ought to have been thoroughly discredited and replaced with new political movements that focus on the needs of society and of the people — a new socialism, if you like — and not on the further enrichment of Prime Ministers, Presidents, CEOs and dictators.

As the “War on Tyranny” undermines the tired clichés and distortions of the “War on Terror,” I hope for nothing less than a contagion of revolutionary impulses that spreads throughout the world, as without it, I fear, we are rapidly returning to the middle ages.

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, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, 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.

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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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