Archive for March, 2011

Guantánamo: Obama Turns the Clock Back to the Days of Bush’s Kangaroo Courts and Worthless Tribunals

Those of us who have been studying Guantánamo closely were not surprised when, on March 7, President Obama announced that he was lifting a ban on trials by Military Commission at Guantánamo, which he imposed on his first day in office in January 2009, and also issued an executive order establishing a periodic review of the cases of prisoners recommended for continued indefinite detention without charge or trial by the Guantánamo Review Task Force, a group of 60 officials and lawyers, from government department and the intelligence agencies, who reviewed all the Guantánamo cases in 2009.

Neither was surprising, because the President announced in May 2009, during a major speech on national security at the National Archives, that the Military Commissions were back on the table, joining federal court trials as an option for trying those held at Guantánamo, and in that same speech he also announced that some prisoners would continue to be held indefinitely without charge or trial.

The return of the Military Commissions

Since then, Military Commissions already established under President Bush have proceeded to trial — or, in fact, to plea deals instead of a trial — in the cases of three prisoners: Ibrahim al-Qosi in July last year, Omar Khadr in October, and Noor Uthman Muhammed last month, and it seems probable that the trials of three other men recommended for trial by Military Commission in November 2009 and January 2010 by Attorney General Eric Holder will now proceed swiftly.

These men are: Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi, and the alleged mastermind of the al-Qaeda attack on the USS Cole in 2000; Ahmed al-Darbi, a Saudi seized in Azerbaijan and accused of involvement in an unrealized plot to attack a ship in the Strait of Hormuz; and Obaidullah, an Afghan accused of playing a peripheral role in the insurgency against US forces in Afghanistan. All the cases have problems — al-Darbi’s, because of his detailed allegations that he was subjected to torture; Obaidullah’s, because he was a nobody involved in an insurgency, and did nothing that could remotely be described as a war crime; and al-Nashiri’s, in particular, because, after his capture in the UAE in the fall of 2002, he was rendered to secret CIA prisons in Thailand and Poland, where he was subjected to the torture technique known as waterboarding, a form of controlled drowning.

In the case of al-Darbi and Obaidullah, it seems probable that the administration will avoid, in one case, a torture-laced legal minefield, and in the other, a demonstration of how, embarrassingly, to equate the pursuit of terrorists with a legitimate insurgency, by reaching plea deals. However, it seems unlikely that anyone in a position of authority would want to strike plea deal with al-Nashiri, given the severity of his alleged crimes and his alleged role in al-Qaeda, and if this is the case then the authorities will not only be obliged to sidestep any mention of his torture, which may be difficult as it was covered in the CIA Inspector General’s report on torture in 2004, and al-Nashiri has also been granted “victim” status in an ongoing investigation of the CIA’s torture prison in Poland.

Just as significant is the fact that an actual trial — rather than a plea deal — runs the very real risk of exposing that the supposed war crimes included in the Military Commissions — conspiracy and providing material support to terrorism, for example — are not legitimate war crimes at all, but were, instead, invented by Congress in 2006 and maintained, despite high-level criticism by Obama administration officials, when a revived version of the Commissions was approved by Congress in the Military Commissions Act of 2009.

Beyond these difficulties, where Obama’s announcement breaks new ground is in opening up the probability that many of the other 30 prisoners still held who were recommended for trials by the Task Force will also be tried by Military Commission – – perhaps even Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks. These men were put forward for federal court trials in November 2009, but the plans were shelved in the wake of a backlash by Republicans and members of Obama’s own party.

Personally, I think that the Military Commissions remain illegitimate, but given Congress’s refusal to allow any Guantánamo prisoners to be brought to the US mainland to face trials (which was included in a major military defense spending bill last December, and was a nakedly political move, as well as being blatantly unconstitutional), Military Commissions are, at present, the only option for trials available to the prisoners. Pragmatically, if these continue to involve plea deals in exchange for short sentences — and the administration honors those plea deals — then, despite being fundamentally flawed, they provide what may be the only way in which prisoners can ever leave Guantánamo.

To understand why this is the case, it is necessary to reflect on the fact that 89 of the remaining 172 prisoners were cleared for release by the Task Force, but are going nowhere either because they are Yemenis, and Obama issued a moratorium on the release of any of the 58 cleared Yemenis last January, after it was discovered that the failed Christmas Day plane bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had been recruited in Yemen, or because they cannot be repatriated because they face the risk of torture of other ill-treatment in their home countries. These 31 men cannot be resettled in the US, because of opposition by the President, by the D.C. Circuit Court, and by Congress, and it is uncertain if third countries will be prepared to offer them new homes. As a result, all 89 prisoners appear to have less chance of leaving Guantánamo than their fellow prisoners who reach plea deals in their trials by Military Commission, and can, as I have been explaining all year, legitimately be described as political prisoners.

The executive order establishing a periodic review of the cases of 47 men designated for indefinite detention without charge or trial

Also less fortunate than those facing trials by Military Commission are the 47 men designated for indefinite detention without charge or trial. The executive order formalizing their detention and providing for periodic reviews of their status, which was issued on March 7, was flagged up before Christmas, but was clearly on the cards from January 2010, when the Task Force submitted its report to the President, recommending that 48 of the remaining prisoners — one of the 48 died in Guantánamo last month — should continue to be held indefinitely without charge or trial, because “prosecution is not feasible in either federal court or a military commission.”

There are several problems with this proposal, of course — beyond their distressing reinforcement of the very basis on which George W. Bush established Guantánamo in the first place — not the least of which concerns the Task Force’s belief that these men can be regarded as dangerous without evidence that can be used to prove their case. As I explained in December:

The Task Force attempted to explain that “the principal obstacles to prosecution in the cases deemed infeasible by the Task Force typically did not stem from concerns over protecting sensitive sources or methods from disclosure, or concerns that the evidence against the detainees was tainted,” but its explanations were unconvincing. Behind claims that “the intelligence about them may be accurate and reliable,” even though it was gathered in dubious circumstances, and that, in many cases, “there are no witnesses who are available to testify in any proceedings against them,” lies a blunter truth, as I explained [in an analysis of the Task Force's report in June 2010]: “that the intelligence, and whatever witness availability there might be, are both tainted by the circumstances under which ‘the gathering of intelligence’ took place — the coercive interrogations, and in some cases the torture, of the prisoners themselves, or of their fellow prisoners.”

To demonstrate this, I referred to the 59 habeas petitions examined by judges in the District Court in Washington D.C., of which 38 have been won by the prisoners, noting:

[T]hese problems have been highlighted again and again by judges, with an objectivity that eluded the Task Force — as, for example, in the cases of Fouad al-Rabiah, a Kuwaiti put forward by President Bush for a trial by military commission, who was freed after a judge ruled that the entire case against him rested on a false narrative that he had come up with after torture and threats, and, to cite just two more examples, Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed, a Yemeni seized in a student guest house in Pakistan, and Mohammed El-Gharani, a Chadian national, who was just 14 when he was seized in a raid on a mosque in Pakistan. In both cases, they were freed after judges ruled that the government’s witnesses — the men’s fellow prisoners — were irredeemably unreliable, and were, if not subjected to violence, then bribed to produce false statements.

It is, therefore, rather disingenuous of the Task Force to claim that “the principal obstacle to prosecution” for these [47] men “typically did not come from … concerns that the evidence against the detainee[s] was tainted,” when, to be frank, the record is replete with examples proving the opposite.

Another problem is that the executive order establishes a review process for the 47 men, consisting of Periodic Review Boards (PRBs), which are remarkably similar to the review process established by the Bush administration — the Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) — that the Supreme Court found inadequate when it granted the prisoners constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights in June 2008.

As with the CSRTs, the men will be presented with an unclassified summary of the allegations against them, will be represented by a “personal representative” (not a lawyer), will be allowed to refute the charges against them (although without the means to do so), will be able to “call witnesses who are reasonably available,” and will also run up against classified evidence that they will not be allowed to see — although there is a provision for them to “receive a sufficient substitute or summary, rather than the underlying information,” if the government plans to rely on classified evidence (as it undoubtedly will, or trials would be going ahead in these cases).

Although I am reassured that, as the administration describes it, the executive order “is intended solely to establish, as a discretionary matter, a process to review on a periodic basis the executive branch’s continued, discretionary exercise of existing detention authority in individual cases,” and also that it “does not create any additional or separate source of detention authority,” and “does not affect the scope of detention authority under existing law,” it is disingenuous of the administration to follow up by stating, “Detainees at Guantánamo have the constitutional privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, and nothing in this order is intended to affect the jurisdiction of Federal courts to determine the legality of their detention.”

This is because, despite its reassurances, the administration has always behaved as though the habeas legislation is a distraction, and that it has only ever believed in the Task Force’s findings — hence its decision to pre-judge 48 men whose habeas petitions might have delivered different outcomes, obviating the need for executive review.

In addition, the executive order demonstrates another fundamental problem with the administration’s approach to Guantánamo — and one that has also eluded the District Court dealing with the men’s habeas petitions. This relates to the legislation that underpins the Guantánamo detentions in the  first place — the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress the week after the 9/11 attacks, 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 September 11, 2001,” or harbored them, but failed to distinguish between al-Qaeda (a terrorist group) and the Taliban (a government, however reviled).

As the habeas legislation has showed, the majority of the men who have lost their petitions are nothing more than foot soldiers for the Taliban, who had no knowledge of al-Qaeda’s international terrorist operations, and who should, as a result, have been held as prisoners of war protected by the Geneva Conventions.

Included in the 47 men designated for indefinite detention, these soldiers remain tainted by the administration’s claims that they are “too dangerous to release,” when the truth is that the AUMF remains the flawed foundation document of the “War on Terror,” and those held at Guantánamo should either be released (without delay), charged in connection with terrorist offenses (which are crimes and not “acts of war”), or redesignated as prisoners of war, who can be held until the end of hostilities.

This, however, would involve recognizing them as soldiers, and not as the kind of shadowy, ill-defined terrorist threats that were invoked so successfully by the Bush administration, and that Obama has done nothing to dispel. This refusal to tackle the foundational problems of Guantánamo not only continues to fuel hysteria in the United States about the soldiers held in Guantánamo, but has also led to a shameful indifference towards putting on trial the handful of people genuinely accused of involvement in acts of international terrorism (including the 9/11 attacks), even though bringing these men to justice ought to have been the purpose of the “War on Terror” all along.

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 the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation.

Quarterly Fundraiser Day 2: 28 Reasons to Support the Work of Guantánamo Expert Andy Worthington

Please support my work!


Yesterday, I published a fundraising appeal (as I do every three months), asking my readers and supporters to help me raise $1500 to fund the maintenance and technical support of my website, and also to cover the otherwise unpaid hours I spend writing the many articles that are published exclusively here, doing radio interviews, and, often, traveling in the UK and beyond to talk about Guantánamo, President Obama’s disgraceful failure to close the prison, the cynical negative campaigning of mainly Republican lawmakers in the US, the British government’s inexplicable failure to secure the return of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, and how, as a result of the obstacles raised by Obama, the D.C. Circuit Court and Congress, the majority of the prisoners still held in Guantánamo can legitimately be regarded as political prisoners.

As I mentioned yesterday, If you can help out at all, please click on the “Donate” button above to make a payment via PayPal. All contributions are welcome, whether it’s $25, $50, $100 or $500, and you can pay via PayPal without even having to log in to the system. As one of my supporters explained, “Just type your details and when they ask you to use PayPal, do not log in. It says, ‘continue without log in.’ Simple. Straightforward.”

Readers can pay via PayPal from anywhere in the world, but if you’re in the UK and want to help without using PayPal, you can send me a cheque (address here — scroll down to the bottom of the page), and if you’re not a PayPal user and want to send a check from the US (or from anywhere else in the world, for that matter), please feel free to do so, but bear in mind that I have to pay a $10/£6.50 processing fee on every transaction. Securely packaged cash is also an option!

Thanks to the kindness of my friends and supporters yesterday, I have so far raised nearly $300 towards my target of $1500, but to provide a reminder of the many unpaid hours I spend writing articles that are published exclusively here, without any financial support at all, I’ve compiled below a list of 28 articles that I’ve written for free since my last fundraiser in December.

As distinct from the articles I write regularly for Cageprisoners and the Future of Freedom Foundation (for which I am paid, and which mainly focus on Guantánamo), these articles received no financial backing whatsoever, and mostly involve me branching out into new territory — the revolutionary upheavals in the Middle East, the unprecedented assault on the British state that is being waged by the coalition government in the UK, the WikiLeaks saga and the case of Bradley Manning, and the first stirrings of workers’ unrest in the US, at the protests in Madison, Wisconsin.

I know that these articles have been read many thousands of times, shared on Facebook, linked to, cross-posted and otherwise circulated, so if you think they’re worth more than nothing, then please consider making a donation. $1500 for my work on these articles would work out at around $50 an article, so you can, if you want, sponsor an article, and I’ll add your name to it.

1. Ten Thoughts About Julian Assange and WikiLeaks
2. Video: 15-Year Old Tells UK Government Why It Has Radicalised A Generation
3. Summoning Up the Spirit of Ronnie Lane: The Triumphant Return of Slim Chance
4. Tell the UK and US Governments We Need A Deadline for the Return of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo
5. Is Bradley Manning Being Held as Some Sort of “Enemy Combatant”?
6. Christmas at Guantánamo
7. The Guantánamo Files: An Archive of Articles — Part Seven, July to December 2010
8. Former CIA “Ghost Prisoner” Abu Zubaydah Recognized as “Victim” in Polish Probe of Secret Prison
9. Torture and Despair: The Psychic Roots of the Revolution in Tunisia, Egypt and Across the Middle East
10. The 11-Year Old American Girl Who Knows More About Guantánamo Than Most US Lawmakers
11. Bringing Guantánamo to Poland — and Talking About the Secret CIA Torture Prison
12. In Afghanistan, 5,000 Attend Funeral of Prisoner Who Died in Guantánamo, as Afghan Peace Council Calls for Release of Former Taliban Official
13. In Egypt, Protests Undimmed, as Mubarak Prepares to Cede Power, Torture Stories Emerge and the Revolution Finds a Hero in Wael Ghonim
14. Protestors in Egypt Remain Angry and Determined as Mubarak Fails to Quit
15. As Mubarak Resigns, Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Mamdouh Habib Reminds the World that Omar Suleiman Personally Tortured Him in Egypt
16. Battle for Britain: Fighting the Coalition Government’s Vile Ideology — and Praise for UK Uncut
17. In Post-Mubarak Egypt, Protestors Demand A Date for Free and Fair Elections from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces
18. Battle for Britain: Resisting the Privatization of the NHS and the Loss of 100,000 Jobs
19. The Indictment for Torture Filed Against George W. Bush (Part One: The Facts)
20. Revolution in Libya: Protestors Respond to Gaddafi’s Murderous Backlash with Remarkable Courage; US and UK Look Like the Hypocrites They Are
21. The Year of Revolution: The “War on Tyranny” Replaces the “War on Terror”
22. Is This the Endgame for Gaddafi’s Murderous Regime in Libya?
23. Tunisia: The Unfinished Revolution, as Prime Minister Resigns, Despite Progress on Elections and the Release of Political Prisoners
24. The New American Revolution: Are Wisconsin’s 100,000 Protestors A Sign of Further Resistance to Come?
25. How the Abu Salim Prison Massacre in 1996 Inspired the Revolution in Libya
26. Death Penalty for Bradley Manning, the Alleged WikiLeaks Whistleblower?
27. Pressure for Change Continues in Egypt: PM Resigns And Constitutional Amendments Are Announced, But Some Protestors Have Disappeared or Been Convicted by Military Courts
28. As the Government Gleefully Butchers the State, Mervyn King Blames Banks for Cuts, Questions Public Indifference and Warns of Future Crisis

Note: The photo at the top of the article is from a panel discussion I organized at the New America Foundation in Washington D.C. on January 11 this year. For a video of the event, see Video: “Nine Years of Guantánamo: What Now?” — Andy Worthington, Morris Davis, Tom Wilner and Ben Wittes at the New America Foundation, January 11, 2011.

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.

Terror Suspects in the UK, Torture, the Law, Solitary Confinement, Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks: Angola 3 News Interviews Activist Richard Haley

My friend Richard Haley, of Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC), recently put me up for two nights in Edinburgh, during a visit as part of my ongoing tour of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which I co-directed with filmmaker Polly Nash. Richard and I have known each other for many years — and SACC supported screenings of “Outside the Law” last year in Edinburgh and Glasgow — so I was delighted when the US-based Angola 3 News, an official project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3 (wrongly imprisoned men held in a US prison for 38 years), got in touch to say, “Your work around Guantánamo and related post 9/11 US state terrorism has been fantastic!” and to ask if I’d be interested in cross-posting a recent interview with Richard.

I’m delighted to do so, as this is a very informative interview with a tireless campaigner for justice, exploring several topics, including the alleged US whistleblower Bradley Manning and Julian Assange of Wikileaks, but focusing largely on the new “Stop Isolation” website, which I wrote about here, and which Richard explains was launched “because the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is considering the appeals of four British citizens — Babar Ahmad, Syed Tahla Ahsan, Haroon Rashid Aswat, and Abu Hamza — against extradition to the US to face terrorism charges. The court is considering whether the length of the sentences the men may face and the risk of long-term isolation at ADX Florence (for three of the men) would breach their right under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights not to ‘be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.’ The court’s long-delayed judgment is expected in the next few months. It will be a landmark in the development of human rights law.”

Please visit the Angola 3 News website (also see here) for detailed information about the long-running campaign to secure justice for two of the three men still wrongly imprisoned in Louisiana after 38 years, and for those who are new to their case, a brief history is below:

38 years ago, deep in rural Louisiana, three young black men — Herman Wallace, Robert King, and Albert Woodfox — were silenced for trying to expose continued segregation, systematic corruption, and horrific abuse in the biggest prison in the US, an 18,000 acre former slave plantation called Angola.

Peaceful, non-violent protest in the form of hunger and work strikes organized by inmates caught the attention of Louisiana’s elected leaders and local media in the early 1970s. They soon called for investigations into a host of unconstitutional and extraordinarily inhumane practices commonplace in what was then the “bloodiest prison in the South.” Eager to put an end to outside scrutiny, prison officials began punishing inmates they saw as troublemakers. At the height of this unprecedented institutional chaos, Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox, and Robert King were charged with murders they did not commit and thrown into 6×9 foot solitary cells.

Robert was released in 2001, but Herman and Albert remain in solitary, continuing to fight for their freedom.

War, Prisons and Torture in the US and UK: An interview with Richard Haley
By Angola 3 News, March 5, 2011

Richard Haley is based in Edinburgh, Scotland. He has been active in Britain’s anti-war movement since 2003. He is a member of the Stop the War Coalition and is currently Chair of Scotland Against Criminalising Communities.

Last December, on Human Rights Day, Scotland Against Criminalising Communities initiated a “Stop Isolation” campaign with an online statement arguing that solitary confinement is a form of torture that must be abolished. The petition states that “We call upon the countries of the world to enact legislation that prohibits long-term prisoner isolation, and prohibits the transfer of prisoners to countries where they would be at risk of such treatment. Dungeons should not be tolerated in the 21st century.”

Angola 3 News: Can you please tell us about your organization Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC)? In Scotland, which communities are being criminalized?

Richard Haley: SACC began as a group of Scottish-based anti-war activists who came together in the first months of 2003 after the arrest of 7 Algerian men on terrorism charges. The arrests were accompanied by an intimidating police trawl for information throughout the Algerian community in Scotland. The arrests got spectacular publicity, leading to a surge in racist incidents against Muslims. So our initial work was to counter these things. We soon saw that there was no evidence against the Algerians. The charges were dropped at the end of the year, after the maximum delay permitted under Scottish law.

Since 9/11 the community most conspicuously criminalized in Scotland has been the Muslim community. At first the focus was on Muslim refugees and immigrants, but later it widened to include British citizens. Muslims are the targets of official suspicion and are at risk of prosecution for activities that would once have been legitimate but are now called “terrorism.” Muslim institutions — mosques and various community groups — are subject to state supervision, surveillance and interference.

The legal machinery for this is a series of anti-terrorism laws introduced over the last decade. Scotland has its own devolved Parliament, but anti-terrorism legislation is the responsibility of the British Parliament. Our group joined the London-based Campaign Against Criminalising Communities in calling for the repeal of all Britain’s terrorism legislation. The Stop the War Coalition — the main group in Britain opposing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — also shares our opposition to the attack on civil liberties. We work with other groups to campaign for prisoners of the “war on terror” throughout Britain and, in some instances, around the world.

Others besides Muslims have been criminalized. Kurdish and Tamil communities have been particular targets. The Kurdish separatist group PKK and the Tamil separatist group LTTE (“Tamil Tigers”) are both banned under anti-terrorism legislation, although neither has carried out armed actions outside its homeland. Both groups enjoy wide sympathy in their respective communities in Britain, and community political and social activities reflect that. The banning of the groups has an effect on all that activity.

Angola 3 News: Along with focusing on prisons, the SACC website spotlights a range of issues, including the war being waged against Iraq by the US and UK. How do these two issues (prisons and war) relate to each other?

Richard Haley: The arrests of the Algerian men in Scotland occurred while the British Government was getting ready to join the US in its invasion of Iraq. Terrorism cases were being massaged or manufactured to create a heightened fear of terrorism and make people more receptive to the argument that the risk of a link between terrorists and Saddam Hussein’s regime made the invasion of Iraq necessary.

Besides the arrests in Scotland, a number of Algerian men were arrested on suspicion of involvement in a plot to disseminate ricin poison. The supposed discovery of ricin was announced by the Metropolitan Police in January 2003. Prime Minister Tony Blair told a meeting of British ambassadors that the danger was “present and real” and that its potential was “huge.” US Secretary of State Colin Powell included the discovery in his 6 February presentation to the UN Security Council in which he set out the US case for war with Iraq. But by the time that Tony Blair and Colin Powell made their statements, the British Government’s Porton Down laboratory had already established that no ricin had been found. This wasn’t widely known until the ricin case came to trial in 2005. Four of the five accused were acquitted on all charges; one man was found guilty of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance. The story of the ricin plot is told in the book, Ricin! The Inside Story of the Terror Plot that Never Was by Lawrence Archer and Fiona Bawdon (Pluto Press, 2010).

The danger of terrorism, coupled with the hypothetical possibility of a link to the Iraqi regime, formed part of the British Government’s case to Parliament in the crucial March 2003 debate that authorized the invasion of Iraq. Terrorism couldn’t provide a legal justification for the war, but it went a long way towards persuading MPs to acquiesce in the flimsy legal justifications that were offered.

There are structural links between prisons and war. The so-called “war on terror” is at the moment focused on Afghanistan and Pakistan rather than Iraq. Whatever its location, it is a war for resources and power. It is imperialist and racist and necessarily involves the denial of human rights. Since Britain is a multi-ethnic country and our population has religious, cultural and family ties to the theatres of war, the denial of rights necessarily extends to Britain. Prison walls obstruct solidarity and promote fear.

Angola 3 News: Looking at the “Stop Isolation” statement published online last December, why did SACC choose to focus on the issue of solitary confinement at this present time? As signatures collect, will you be submitting it to anyone in the form of a petition?

Richard Haley: We call “Stop Isolation” a statement rather than a petition because it isn’t particularly directed towards being handed in somewhere. It is available on the internet for anyone — government or activist — to see. We may in due course post a copy to the justice ministers of a selection of countries. But we intend the statement to stand for as long as necessary as a rallying point for people who want to work together while putting pressure on their governments to end long-term prisoner isolation. “Stop Isolation” is independent of other campaigns that SACC supports. We hope to keep expanding the website to include more news and background from around the world.

We launched “Stop Isolation” because the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is considering the appeals of four British citizens — Babar Ahmad, Syed Tahla Ahsan, Haroon Rashid Aswat, and Abu Hamza — against extradition to the US to face terrorism charges. The court is considering whether the length of the sentences the men may face and the risk of long-term isolation at ADX Florence (for three of the men) would breach their right under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights not to “be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The court’s long-delayed judgment is expected in the next few months. It will be a landmark in the development of human rights law.

The ECHR is the last legal recourse for human rights appeals by people in the 47 member states of the Council of Europe–a grouping that is wider and distinct from the European Union. If the court blocks the men’s extradition it will send a signal to the US that the harshness of the US penal system is damaging its international relations. On the other hand, a ruling in favor of extradition could open the door to harsher prison conditions in Europe. In either case the challenge to human rights campaigners will be the same — we will need a vigorous international campaign against prisoner isolation.

The charges against the four men are different, but all the cases are marred by a range of worrying issues, in addition to the matters that the ECHR has agreed to consider. Some of the problems stem from Britain’s Extradition Act 2003, which allows people to be extradited to the US without any need for prima facie evidence to be presented. US lawmakers have wisely failed to ratify the treaty that would create reciprocal arrangements for extradition from the US to Britain. Some of the British opposition to the Extradition Act has stressed the loss of sovereignty that it entails and the lack of balance created by the US position. But sovereignty and balance aren’t the real issues. The real problem is that evidence-free extradition promotes injustice. For more background, see lawyer Gareth Peirce’s article in the London Review of Books.

Angola 3 News: Can you tell us more about these four British citizens?

Richard Haley: Two of the men — Babar Ahmad and Syed Tahla Ahsan — have become particular friends of SACC over the years that it has taken for their appeals to reach the ECHR. Their cases are closely linked to one another. They relate to the men’s alleged support — largely by means of the internet — for groups in Chechnya and Afghanistan over the period 1997-2004. The offences were all allegedly committed while the men were in Britain. Talha Ahsan has never visited the US. The evidence against the men has never been presented to a British court. Both men say that they should be tried in Britain. British prosecutors say they don’t have enough evidence to do so.

Babar Ahmad has become very widely known amongst Muslims in Britain. His arrest marked the moment when British Muslims, as well as refugees and immigrants, began to feel threatened by the state. Babar was subjected to a serious and unprovoked assault by police officers during and after his initial arrest at his London home in December 2003. Much later (while in jail) he won a lawsuit against the police over his ill-treatment. He was released without charge six days after his initial arrest, but was arrested again 8 months later on an extradition request from the US. He has been held in high-security jails ever since. There is more information on his case on the website Free Babar Ahmad and on the SACC website.

Talha Ahsan was arrested in London in July 2006 following an extradition request from the US and has been held in high-security jails ever since. The cases against both Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan rely on evidence seized by British police during their violent raid on Babar Ahmad’s home, and then passed to the US.

A booklet entitled This be the Answer: Prison Poems by Talha Ahsan, has just been published [and is available here for £3, inc. P&P] and includes more background about his case. The Free Talha Ahsan website has also just been launched.

If the four men are sent to the US, they are sure to be accompanied by damaging publicity. They will need all the support they can get if they are to stand a chance of a fair trial. Readers can find contact details for Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan on the SACC website. I’m sure that both men would be delighted to receive letters from the US.

We also need the support of US readers for our campaign against prisoner isolation. Spread the word about the “Stop Isolation” statement and website. Encourage people to add their names to the statement. Use it when campaigning for individual prisoners. Send “Stop Isolation” any news that might be of interest (contact details here). Tell your representatives on Capitol Hill about it. The statement is supported by senior legal and human rights figures around the world. Their support shows that the US is out of step with international best practice on this issue.

Angola 3 News: Why do you think that the use of solitary confinement is so widespread? Why do governments choose to use it as a form of punishment?

Richard Haley: Because they can.

Because prison authorities often believe that it is absolutely necessary to make prisoners conform, whatever the human cost.

Because solitary confinement is imposed on people who are in prison and lack easy access to legal remedy or public support.

Torturers often prefer methods that don’t leave obvious marks. Solitary confinement is one such method. It is often thought to be near the margin of the practices prohibited under human rights law. So governments can use it to flex their muscles and to stimulate reactionary sentiment without colliding with international law and its enforcement mechanisms. I hope the “Stop Isolation” statement will make that harder to do.

Angola 3 News: Why do you think torture itself is a tactic used by governments?

Richard Haley: Anti-torture campaigners often say that torture doesn’t work. They mean that torture doesn’t yield reliable information, and of course they are right. But torture has worked very well for thousands of years to help rulers dominate the ruled. The recent uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt happened when torture stopped working. Our job is to stop torture working. Eradicating it will then be easy.

Angola 3 News: How often is solitary used in Europe? How does the European use of solitary contrast with how the US uses it?

Richard Haley: Prison Governors in Scotland may authorize segregation for a maximum of 72 hours. The period can be extended for a month at a time by Scottish Ministers or by officials to whom ministers delegate responsibility.

A lawsuit brought by a group of prisoners over their solitary confinement came to court in 2004. There were at that time 63 prisoners in segregation units in Scotland out of a prison population of a little under 7000. The litigants complained of episodes of segregation that had in some cases occurred some years previously. Several of them had been placed in segregation cells for periods of around five months. Another prisoner — not one of these bringing the lawsuit — was known at that time to have been in solitary for 18 months.

The Scottish Prison Service settled with the prisoners in 2009. Regrettably, the service insisted that it had settled “purely on economic grounds” and that it did not accept that the segregation of the prisoners had been unlawful. An inspection of Perth prison in 2009 found that 2 prisoners had been held in segregation for “more than a month.” A 2007 inspection of Kilmarnock Prison found that one prisoner had been in segregation for 5 months and another for 3 months. Inspections of some other Scottish prisons in recent years have reported that segregation cells were rarely used.

In England and Wales punitive solitary confinement can be imposed on adults for a maximum of 28 days. Prisoners can be segregated without time limit to preserve “good order and discipline” or for their own protection. Their segregation is subject to frequent review.

The use of solitary confinement varies across Europe. The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) has wide powers to visit and inspect prisons in the 47 member states of the Council of Europe. It says that “all forms of solitary confinement should be as short as possible.” Some European states have chosen not to publish the CPT’s reports on their country, as is their right. For example, no reports on CPT visits to the Russian Federation have ever been published.

Since 1999, Turkey has been holding PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan in a specially built prison on the island of Imrali. For 10 years he was its sole inmate. The CPT visited the prison in 2007 and subsequently recommended that Öcalan should “be integrated into a setting where contacts with other inmates and a wider range of activities are possible.” In November 2009 the Turkish authorities transferred several other prisoners to Imrali to alleviate Öcalan’s isolation. Turkey has a very poor human rights record and Öcalan is its most notorious prisoner; it nevertheless felt unable to maintain his isolation.

Solitary confinement for periods of several years or more is very rare in Europe. Solitary confinement for periods of many months is generally unusual. Supermax-style conditions are almost certainly very rare or absent.

The use of solitary confinement is much more restricted by judicial process and legally-empowered monitoring in Europe than in the US. But I know of no Europe-wide survey of solitary confinement, so the picture of European practice is a very tentative and provisional one.

Angola 3 News: What strategies are European activists using to influence policy, that might be useful in the US?

Richard Haley: I think that European activists may have more to learn from US activists than vice versa. From here, it looks as if prison activism in the US is much wider, deeper and more politicized in the US than in Britain.

Excellent work is being done here by Paddy Hill and John McManus at Miscarriages of Justice Organisation Scotland. Paddy Hill is one of the Birmingham 6. He spent 16 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of the 1974 Irish Republican bombings in Birmingham.

Excellent work is also being done by Cageprisoners. Former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg is one of its directors.

Angola 3 News: With recent revelations that Bradley Manning is also a citizen of the UK, SACC is calling for the British government to intervene. Can you please tell us more about this? Has there been a response yet from the British government?

Richard Haley: It turns out that Bradley Manning’s mother is Welsh, so he is a British citizen as well as a US citizen. Britain normally offers only informal help to dual nationals detained in the country of their other nationality, but it makes formal representations where there are human rights issues. There are obviously human rights concerns for Bradley Manning, but the British government has so far given no help. A number of Members of Parliament have told constituents that they are concerned over this, but they haven’t yet had a response from the Government. British Members of the European Parliament have also expressed an interest. So we’ll be trying to keep the pressure up. There is more information on the “UK Friends of Bradley Manning” website.

If the allegations against Bradley Manning are true, we are indebted to him for helping to reveal what the war in Iraq was really like. Whether the allegations are true or not, his isolation in Quantico Brig puts him under pressure to incriminate himself and Julian Assange.

Manning and Assange both need support; support for either of them will make both stronger. Assange is pinned down dealing with allegations of sex crimes in Sweden. The US authorities are meanwhile trying to find a formula that will let them charge him without threatening the traditional media. The worldwide media have helped the US government tremendously by distancing themselves from Assange. Journalists who collude in this should be ashamed of themselves.

Britain’s extradition court has unsurprisingly ducked the chance to see justice done over Sweden’s request for Assange to be extradited there. The Chief Magistrate, Howard Riddle, ruled on 24 February that the extradition can go ahead. To rule otherwise wouldn’t just have meant standing in the path of the juggernaut bearing down on WikiLeaks. It would also have shone a spotlight on the operation of the already-controversial European Arrest Warrant. The warrants came into effect in August 2003 and allow extradition with minimal legal oversight between the various radically different jurisdictions within the European Union. Like the arrangements for extradition from Britain to the US, the system is an open invitation to injustice.

Riddle has accepted that Assange will be held incommunicado in prison in Sweden and will then be interrogated, held without bail and eventually tried in secret. But he held that these facts should not stand in the way of Assange’s extradition. Assange’s lawyer Mark Stephens says that, though Sweden’s penal system has some progressive features, the country is a “human rights black spot in relation to solitary confinement.” Stephens argues that extradition proceedings should not be a rubber-stamp but should instead be a tool to “improve the quality of justice throughout Europe” and eliminate “human rights blind spots.” This is exactly the approach that SACC has long been advocating.

If the larger issues of Julian Assange’s case are to be dealt with, it will be in a more elevated forum than the extradition court. Assange will appeal to the High Court and, if unsuccessful, may then appeal to Britain’s Supreme Court and then to the European Court of Human Rights. Even these courts are only likely to stand up for justice and against state interests if public opinion demands it.

Riddle said in his 24 February ruling: “sometimes public comment damages the cause more than it helps.” He was referring to comments made on the steps of the court last year by Assange’s lawyer. Assange’s legal team may get a rough ride. If they do, it won’t be the first time that Britain’s legal establishment has tried to keep an inconvenient lawyer quiet. In 2006, Scottish lawyer Aamer Anwar was accused of contempt of court after speaking out against the conviction of his client Mohammed Atif Siddique on terrorism charges. Campaigners rallied in Anwar’s support, the contempt charges were thrown out by three high court judges and the appeal court in Edinburgh eventually ruled that Siddique had suffered a miscarriage of justice. People must be ready to give Julian Assange’s lawyers the same sort of robust support that we in Scotland gave to Aamer Anwar.

Amy Jeffress, the US justice department’s attaché to the American embassy in London, has dismissed concerns that Julian Assange could be at risk of detention at Guantánamo Bay if re-extradited from Sweden to the US. She told the BBC radio program Law in Action: “The President, of course, has decided to close Guantánamo Bay and so no one is going to Guantánamo Bay and that claim is baseless.”

But Obama’s deadline for closing Guantánamo expired over a year ago. His handling of the issue has shown the whole world that the White House has neither the will nor the authority to guarantee respect for human rights in the United States.

Angola 3 News: Anything else to add?

Richard Haley: The world is shrinking. Law-enforcement and intelligence agencies around the world cooperate closely on matters they say are related to terrorism. They use extradition, rendition and the opportunistic torture of people who travel to countries whose governments can get away with it. Too often, the human rights standards that count are the lowest ones. We need to work together so that we all benefit instead from the highest standards.

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.

Andy Worthington Discusses Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks and the Spanish Torture Case Against the Bush Administration with Kevin Gosztola of Op-Ed News

A few days ago I had the pleasure to talk to Kevin Gosztola of Op-Ed News for his regular podcast show, “This Week in WikiLeaks,” which is available below (or on the Op-Ed News page here).

The 24-minute show followed up on the announcement that 22 new charges — including one that potentially carries the death penalty — had just been filed against Pfc. Bradley Manning, the alleged whistleblower responsible for providing WikiLeaks with classified US diplomatic cables, videos and the Afghan and Iraqi war logs, who is imprisoned in a US military brig. I discussed these latest charges in my article, Death Penalty for Bradley Manning, the Alleged WikiLeaks Whistleblower?.

In the interview, I spoke about the disturbing aspects of Bradley Manning’s detention that echo the isolation to which three US “enemy combatants” were subjected under the Bush administration, as I discussed in my article, Is Bradley Manning Being Held as Some Sort of “Enemy Combatant”?, and also about the policy of “learned helplessness” that underpinned the wider detention of prisoners in the “War on Terror,” and especially the “high-value detainees” held in secret CIA prisons. Part of our discussions focused on the very latest news about Pfc. Manning — the disturbing revelation that, apparently in response to a sarcastic comment made by Manning, he is being made to sleep naked, and also to stand naked outside his cell every morning while the cells are inspected.

Kevin and I also spoke about the recent good news from Spain — almost entirely ignored in the US — in which the Spanish National Court approved an ongoing investigation into the torture of a Spanish resident, Lahcen Ikassrien, in Guantánamo, as I described in my article, Spanish Court Gives Go-Ahead for Guantánamo Torture Investigation to Continue.

There was much more in the interview, and I hope you enjoy it if you find the time to listen.

This, by the way, is how Kevin described the show:

Manning’s Forced Nudity at Quantico and Spanish Guantánamo Investigation Continues; Plus, 100 Days Since Cablegate Began

This week’s guest was freelance investigative journalist, author and filmmaker Andy Worthington, who is known for covering Guantánamo Bay prison, torture and the wider “war on terror.”

Worthington discussed the forced nudity that former Pfc. Bradley Manning (the whistleblower alleged to have leaked classified information like the “Collateral Murder” video to WikiLeaks) is being subjected to by the US military at Quantico Brig in Virginia and the 22 additional charges, which the military filed against Manning.

Worthington also talked about an article he recently published on a Spanish  investigation into Bush administration officials’ involvement in the torture and abuse of prisoners at Guantánamo. WikiLeaks revelations in the cable that showed US government officials interfered and worked to halt a Spanish investigation have pushed the national court to renew its efforts to bring those involved in torture to justice. Worthington also talked about WikiLeaks’ impact so far in helping detainees at Guantánamo get one step closer to justice and acknowledgment of the torture and abuse they experienced.

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.

Quarterly Fundraiser: Help Me Raise $1500 for My Work on Guantánamo, Torture … and Much More!

Please support my work!


Every three months, I put out a request for my readers and supporters to help keep me afloat financially. If you can help out at all, please click on the “Donate” button above to make a payment via PayPal. All contributions are welcome, whether it’s $25, $100 or $500, and I’m hoping to raise $1500 to cover the cost of running the site, and some important technical upgrades, as well as covering the otherwise unpaid hours I spend writing the many articles that are published exclusively here.

Readers can pay via PayPal from anywhere in the world, but if you’re in the UK and want to help without using PayPal, you can send me a cheque (address here — scroll down to the bottom of the page), and if you’re not a PayPal user and want to send a check from the US (or from anywhere else in the world, for that matter), please feel free to do so, but bear in mind that I have to pay a $10/£6.50 processing fee on every transaction. Securely packaged cash is also an option!

Since my last fundraising appeal, at the start of December, I have been busier than ever, covering not only Guantánamo, torture and other aspects of the “War on Terror,” as I have been doing solidly for the last five years, but also branching out into new territory — the revolutionary upheavals in the Middle East, the unprecedented assault on the British state that is being waged by the coalition government in the UK, the WikiLeaks saga and the case of Bradley Manning, and the first stirrings of workers’ unrest in the US, at the protests in Madison, Wisconsin.

Thanks to your interest in my work, I now have more readers than ever. My website received over 250,000 page visits last month, and is regularly ranked by Technorati as one of the Top 100 World Politics Blogs (no. 44 at the time of writing). I’m also close to reaching my limit of 5,000 friends on Facebook, where my work is regularly shared by a wonderfully supportive community of activists and concerned citizens of the world, and I recently received my 1,000th follower on Twitter. In addition, a great recognition of the importance of my work took place in January, when this website was archived by the British Library.

Nevertheless, although I receive regular financial support from Cageprisoners (for whom I write two original articles a week) and the Future of Freedom Foundation (for whom I write a weekly column), much of my work remains unpaid — in particular, my forays into new areas of commentary, research and analysis, as mentioned above, and some of the costs associated with my outreach work. In the last few months, this has involved a visit to the US to protest about President Obama’s failure to close Guantánamo, as the prison began its 10th year of operations, a week-long Polish tour of a sub-titled version of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (which I co-directed with Polly Nash), and my ongoing UK tour of the film, which mainly involves screenings to Amnesty International student groups.

My thanks to everyone who has supported my work to date, and who has helped to demonstrate that, in the new media world of the Internet, independent voices can be heard, and that the mainstream media no longer has a monopoly on what is newsworthy and what isn’t. Without your support, this experiment I began almost exactly five years would have come to nothing, and I mean it when I say that I would be nowhere without you. If you can contribute to help me to continue chronicling the often untold stories of Guantánamo and the “War on Terror,” to fill in the gaps left by the mainstream media’s analysis, and to reach out into new territory, then I’ll be grateful, as it will demonstrate that reader-supported new media can indeed be a viable alternative to the advertiser-funded mainstream.

Above all, however, I’m happy if you continue following my work, sharing it, tweeting it, Digging it, cross-posting it, linking to it, and generally making it as widely available as possible. In the last few months, extraordinary stories of the courage, determination and solidarity of the people have emerged from the Middle East, suggesting that real hope and change are possible, and I’m reassured also by  signs of an awakening of awareness, in the countries of the West, that we too have powerful enemies to defeat.

These are still dark times for the world, but I shall continue tracking the lights of hope, standing up for universal human rights, seeking ustice and demanding accountability from those in power, even when it seems to be a lost cause, and I hope that you will continue to accompany me on this journey.

Andy Worthington
London
March 9, 2011

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.

Egypt: Some Progress on the Release of Political Prisoners and Dismantling the Security State

On Saturday, after intense protests on Friday, when thousands of demonstrators surrounded the State Security buildings in Alexandria and Giza, demanding the release of political prisoners and the dissolution of the hated State Security agency (which employs about 100,000 of Egypt’s 500,000-strong security forces, and is blamed for the most severe human rights abuses under Hosni Mubarak), the State Security headquarters in Cairo was invaded by hundreds of protestors, including former prisoners and relatives of the untold number of prisoners “disappeared” during Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

Other State Security buildings in Cairo were also occupied, and in the northwestern city of Mersa Matruh, according to AFP, “protesters surged into the state security headquarters, gathering up thousands of documents before setting the building on fire. Residents of the coastal resort then sat at nearby cafes leafing through the documents for evidence of human rights abuses as smoke billowed from the headquarters.”

The occupation of the State Security headquarters in Cairo

The focus on the State Security buildings on Saturday arose in particular in response to reports from Alexandria the night before by protestors who managed to occupy the building, and who stated that they had discovered evidence that agents had been shredding documents — and in some cases burning them — to destroy evidence that could incriminate them in human rights abuses, although the general spur for the protests was weeks of anger that the dissolution of the agency — a key demand of the uprising — had not occurred.

The Miami Herald reported from Cairo that “Egyptian military tanks were positioned outside the security structure and the army’s elite Thunder Squad pleaded with protesters not to enter the forbidding complex,” but to no avail, as “Egyptians chanting ‘Down with State Security!’ stormed past them and flooded into the building … even as military police fired warning shots into the air.”

The Herald‘s report continued:

Outside, several families of detainees gazed at the scene in disbelief, mumbling prayers and shouting the names of the disappeared. They cornered army commanders, demanding to know whether the military had apprehended the agents who’d apparently escaped before the crowds arrived.

“Did you arrest them? Did they come out as prisoners?” a protester asked.

“No, they ran away,” an army officer answered. “Look, I’m not the interior minister. I’m here to help you!”

This appears to be true, as Al-Jazeera reported that the Egyptian army allowed the protestors to “enter at around 8pm on Saturday evening, and arrested many of the state security officers working inside.”

Inside the building, protestors “seize[d] files they hoped would cement Mubarak’s legacy of prisoner abuse and disappearances,” Some, according to the Herald, were also looking for evidence relating to Egypt’s role in the Bush administration’s program of “extraordinary rendition” and torture, in which the government of Hosni Mubarak played a major part, and protesters carted off armloads of files and turned them over to a prosecutor who arrived on the scene.” Protesters who spoke to Al-Jazeera called the buildings proof of “the greatest privacy invasion in history”, explaining how they were “filled with transcripts of phone conversations, surveillance reports and stark reminders of the torture carried out inside.”

Others were looking, in vain, for relatives. Leila Mahmoud, 47, said, “I thought my brother would be found there. He was taken on April 2, 2005, and we’ve been looking for him since then. We haven’t heard a word from him since. Not a word.”

Others, meanwhile, recalled their own torture. Adel Reda, 39, who was held for nine months inside the complex, said, “I saw people’s nails being ripped out and people hung from the ceiling by their arms or legs. They would throw our food in sand before giving it to us and splash us with cold water day and night. Sometimes it was so dark you couldn’t see your hands.” Asked if he had ever been allowed to see a lawyer, he “raised his hands heavenward and replied: ‘My lawyer was God.'”

The actions at the weekend demonstrate the dissatisfaction of a significant number of Egyptians involved in the uprising that toppled Mubarak three weeks ago, who want the ruling military leadership (the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) “to dissolve State Security and replace it with a scaled-down intelligence force headed by a civilian,” and who “complain that the military has worked slowly and in secrecy to bring about that and other promised reforms.” They also want charges to be brought against all the officers involved in the Mubarak regime’s practice of “rounding up opposition figures and political rivals and holding them without charge,” which was only made possible through the  notorious emergency law that was in operation throughout Mubarak’s reign.

Speaking to the Miami Herald, former prisoners and their families explained how “Mubarak’s security officials would justify the detentions as counterterrorism work,” even though they “almost never provided evidence of extremist cells inside the country.” These witnesses added that “any outward appearance of Islamic devotion — a long beard, for example, or too much time in the mosque — was enough to land people on State Security’s radar.”

As the Herald also reported:

“My brother was detained because he was trying to send food and medicine to Gaza,” said Ingy Qutb, 25. “They kept him three months and tortured him and …”

Her voice broke and tears spilled onto her black veil.

“This place must be destroyed,” she said softly.

The release of political prisoners

While these stories explain, with an alarming clarity, how brutal the Mubarak regime was, how, without checks and balances, the intelligence agencies could pick up, torture and “disappear” whoever they wanted, whether there was anything resembling evidence or not, and why so many people are so angry that the State Security agency has not been dissolved by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, it is worth noting that there has actually been progress on the release of prisoners both before and after Mubarak’s fall.

In a desperate last-ditch bid to hold onto power, Hosni Mubarak released some political prisoners before his abrupt departure on February 11. According to the state news agency MENA, 34 political prisoners, including members of the Muslim Brotherhood, were released on February 8. MENA stated, “Interior Minister Mahmoud Wagdy issued an order today releasing 34 political detainees considered to be among the extremist elements, after evaluating their positions. They showed good intentions and expressed their desire to live peaceably with society.” Al-Jazeera noted that the report added that “they had handed themselves over to the authorities after escaping from prison during several days of disorder last month.”

Al-Jazeera also reported that, according to its sources, “more than a thousand other prisoners were released … after completing at least three-quarters of their sentences,” and “another 840 prisoners were released from the Sinai province.”

On the release of political prisoners, there has also, crucially, been progress since Mubarak’s departure. Before he resigned on Friday, Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq promised to release political prisoners, and, according to state TV, 108 political prisoners were released on February 20, including many formerly identified as terrorists. Al-Masry Al-Youm explained:

Prisoners from al-Aqrab, Tora, al-Este’naf and other prisons were let go after activists called for their release. Among the released were 19 activists belonging to a group led by Sheikh Magdy Salem, a leader of al-Jihad [Egyptian Islamic Jihad], according to sources within Islamist groups. The same sources added that the members of Sheikh Magdy’s group … included Sheikh Yehya Khalaf and Sheikh Ahmed al-Gendy. Al-Aqrab prison witnessed the release of 13 detainees, including Sheikh Mohamed al-Lowainy and Sheikh Abdel Hamid Fares, who belong to al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya [the terrorist group who renounced violence in 2003, leading to the release of over 1000 prisoners, and a further 1200 in 2006]. Sheikh Mohamed Aboul Seoud, who served nearly 25 years in al-Este’naf prison, was also released. He belongs to al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya. [...]

Sources said that the Interior Ministry is currently considering the release of Sheikh Aboud al-Zomr and his cousin Tarek al-Zomr, Egypt’s oldest prisoners, as a kind of reward for their decision to remain in prison two weeks ago despite having had opportunities to escape.

Twelve al-Jihad and al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya leaders, who were sentenced to death, hope to be included as part a general amnesty that rewards them for sharing in an initiative to discourage violence.

These releases constitute a bold attempt to start to draw a line under long decades of internal conflict, which were played upon by the Bush administration in its “War on Terror” and also by Omar Suleiman, Mubarak’s choice as Vice President, who was deeply committed to the “War on Terror,” being personally involved in the torture of prisoners rendered to Egypt by the CIA. Despite the seal of approval from Mubarak, however, Suleiman was sidelined by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces when Mubarak stepped down, and has not been heard from since.

The day before the release of the 108 prisoners, the state news agency MENA quoted Ahmed Shafiq saying that there were 487 political prisoners in total, and that 222 “would soon be freed,” although he did not provide a date for the 114 to be released — or an explanation of who the 265 others were, or why they would continue to be held. According to Al-Masry Al-Youm, however, another 42 prisoners associated with Egyptian Jihadist and Salafist groups were released on February 24.

No one knows if these figures are accurate, as human rights groups have long maintained that thousands of political prisoners were detained by the Mubarak regime. Al-Jazeera noted, “Many fighters remain in jail from the time of Mubarak’s predecessor Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated by soldiers linked to an Islamist group in 1981. According to human rights groups, it is not clear how many people are detained in Egypt for political activities, such as joining banned groups or planning or carrying out acts of violence, but they estimate them to be in [the] thousands.” The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, an independent nonprofit organization, put the number of political prisoners at around 17,000.

It is also unclear how many of those held were seized during the uprising that toppled Mubarak. Reuters reported that “Shafiq said the number detained during the revolt that began on January 25 did not exceed a handful, and that efforts were underway to find out the fate of those who disappeared during the uprising,” although “Protesters and rights groups say hundreds went missing during the protests, and that some are being held by authorities.” Gamal Eid, a lawyer who heads the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, told AFP, “There are hundreds of detained, but information on their numbers is still not complete … The army was holding detainees.”

In addition, as I noted in a previous article, there have been reports of prisoners seized during the uprising being tortured (also see my article, In Egypt, Protests Undimmed, as Mubarak Prepares to Cede Power, Torture Stories Emerge and the Revolution Finds a Hero in Wael Ghonim), and last week activist Amr Abdallah Elbihiry, one of the protestors seized, was given a five-year sentence last week by a military court, under the same terrible state of emergency that was in place throughout Mubarak’s reign, and that has not been revoked. (For further information, see this Human Rights Watch news article).

There was, however, additional news about the release of prisoners on March 3 and March 4. On March 3, Al-Ahram reported that two leading Muslim Brotherhood members — Khairat Al-Shater, deputy chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood, and businessman Hasan Malek — had been released from the notorious Tora Prison complex, and on March 4 Imad al-Sayyed, spokesman for the families of Palestinian political prisoners in Egyptian jails, said that the Egyptian army had released 12 Palestinian prisoners — some of whom had spent more than four years imprisoned — from al-Aqrab prison and “called on the ruling military council in Egypt to release the rest of the Palestinian political prisoners who remain in jail.”

According to the Arab Organisation for Human Rights in UK, at least 32 Palestinian prisoners are still held, although Al-Masry Al-Youm reported on February 23 that 96 Palestinians were held in al-Aqrab, and that they had “declared a hunger strike,” because they claimed that “they were jailed without justification.” Lawyer Ibrahim Ali said, “Some of them obtained court release orders after it was proved that they weren’t linked to Hamas or other Islamic movements in Gaza.” Al-Masry Al-Youm also reported that 45 Bedouin tribesmen from the Sinai Peninsula were also held in al-Aqrab.

Why further reform of Egypt’s detention system is required

All of these releases constitute progress, but if the unaccountable secret detention system is to be abolished — facilitated, as it has been, by the endless state of emergency and by Article 179 of the Constitution, introduced in 2007, which gives sweeping powers of arrest to the security forces, allowing Egypt’s leader to totally bypass ordinary civilian courts and instead send people suspected of terrorist offences to military and special courts — the authorities will need to acknowedge that the entire apparatus established to combat terrorism is not only a system that can be misapplied to political dissent, but is also unjustifiable and a legal abomination, involving secret detention, either with or without secret trials, and no accountability or oversight whatseover.

As was explained in a United Nations report on secret detention last year (PDF, p. 109), prepared by Martin Scheinin, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Manfred Nowak, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Shaheen Ali, the vice-chair of the Working Group on arbitrary detention, and Jeremy Sarkin, the chair of the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances:

In his report on his mission to Egypt in April 2009, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism referred to an emergency law framework primarily used to counter terrorism in the country. In the view of the Special Rapporteur, the use of exceptional powers in the prevention and investigation of terrorist crimes reflected a worrying trend in which this phenomenon was perceived as an emergency triggering exceptional powers, rather than a serious crime subject to normal penal procedures.

He also expressed, inter alia, concern about relying on exceptional powers in relation to arrest and detention of terrorist suspects that were then inserted into the ordinary penal framework of an anti-terrorism law, the practice of administrative detention without trial in violation of international norms and the use of unofficial detention facilities, the heightened risk of torture for terrorist suspects, and the lack of investigation and accountability.

I hope to discover more about the released political prisoners — and those still held — in the weeks to come, but if Egypt is to truly effect revolutionary change, it is imperative, as Martin Scheinin noted above, that its state of emergency — and the lawlessness and torture that went with it, and that was so thoroughly and sickeningly embraced by the Bush administration in its “War on Terror” — is brought to an end.

Note: For more photos and information, see the website of 3arabawy, where the first two photos in this article were published. Click on all the images to enlarge them.

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: Michael Moore Tells Wisconsin Protestors, “America Ain’t Broke! The Only Thing That’s Broke is the Moral Compass of the Rulers”

Three weeks ago, a burning ember of the inspiration for revolution that was seeded in Tunisia and spread to Egypt, and is now erupting in numerous countries through North Africa and the Gulf, landed in Wisconsin, reawakening large-scale protests in a manner not seen for decades. Since then, up to 100,000 Americans have occupied the capitol building in Madison, and have filled the public spaces around it. These protestors are engaged in an ideological battle with the new wave of Republicans, elected in the mid-term elections, who thought that their ability to mesmerize large numbers of their fellow Americans into voting for them meant that there would be no opposition to their typically malignant policy of further enriching the wealthy, while treating workers like an inconvenience, to be squeezed, demoralized, belittled and, where possible, thrown onto the scrapheap of unemployment.

As I explained last week, when I wrote about what I called “The New American Revolution,” the workers of Wisconsin, and their supporters, have picked up, perhaps even subconsciously, the message from Tunisia and Egypt that tyrants can be deposed when the people rise up in sufficient numbers, and, despite little mainstream media interest, are providing countrywide inspiration across the US for others facing their own version of Wisconsin’s nemesis — governor Scott Walker, elected in November.

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,” Walker 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.

All, however, is not going according to plan. As I also explained last week, “Walker’s 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.”

In addition, the governor’s bill is stalled in the Wisconsin Senate, because the entire Democratic delegation — totaling 14 lawmakers — fled the state two weeks ago to avoid a quorum vote and has refused to return unless Walker agrees to negotiate on collective bargaining rights. However, as Reuters reported on Friday, “Behind-the-scenes negotiations have failed to produce a compromise,” even though “just one Democrat is needed for a quorum,” and Dave Hansen, one of the 14 Democrat lawmakers, issued a statement saying, “It has become increasingly apparent that Governor Walker is not interested in compromise, but instead appears intent on prolonging the impasse.”

As Reuters also reported, “With no action expected on the bill, Walker said he will be forced to send out formal layoff notices to 1,500 state employees, saving some $30 million,” even though this will only enrage protestors still further.

To the protestors’ delight, governor Walker’s misreading of the public mood also extends to voters, who have shifted their allegiances since the protest began, with nearly 60 percent of voters regarding him unfavorably compared to the majority support he commanded just four months ago, and this should provide a warning to the droves of similar lawmakers around the country who have been hoping to savage workers with the same disregard as in Wisconsin.

On Saturday, filmmaker and activist Michael Moore (who is from the neighboring state of Michigan) visited Madison to deliver an impassioned message of support for the protestors, which I’m cross-posting below, along with a video of his rousing speech. A longtime advocate of labor rights, Moore also honed his criticsm of the thieves of Wall Street in his excellent film, “Capitalism: A Love Story,” and he delivered a powerful message, telling the protestors that “America is not broke,” that “Wall Street, the banks and the Fortune 500 now run this Republic — and, until this past month, the rest of us have felt completely helpless, unable to find a way to do anything about it,” and encouraging the protestors not to give up, because “You have aroused the sleeping giant known as the working people of the United States of America.”

America Is NOT Broke
By Michael Moore, March 5, 2011

America is not broke.

Contrary to what those in power would like you to believe so that you’ll give up your pension, cut your wages, and settle for the life your great-grandparents had, America is not broke. Not by a long shot. The country is awash in wealth and cash. It’s just that it’s not in your hands. It has been transferred, in the greatest heist in history, from the workers and consumers to the banks and the portfolios of the uber-rich.

Today just 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all Americans combined.

Let me say that again. 400 obscenely rich people, most of whom benefited in some way from the multi-trillion dollar taxpayer “bailout” of 2008, now have more loot, stock and property than the assets of 155 million Americans combined. If you can’t bring yourself to call that a financial coup d’état, then you are simply not being honest about what you know in your heart to be true.

And I can see why. For us to admit that we have let a small group of men abscond with and hoard the bulk of the wealth that runs our economy, would mean that we’d have to accept the humiliating acknowledgment that we have indeed surrendered our precious Democracy to the moneyed elite. Wall Street, the banks and the Fortune 500 now run this Republic — and, until this past month, the rest of us have felt completely helpless, unable to find a way to do anything about it.

I have nothing more than a high school degree. But back when I was in school, every student had to take one semester of economics in order to graduate. And here’s what I learned: Money doesn’t grow on trees. It grows when we make things. It grows when we have good jobs with good wages that we use to buy the things we need and thus create more jobs. It grows when we provide an outstanding educational system that then grows a new generation of inventers, entrepreneurs, artists, scientists and thinkers who come up with the next great idea for the planet. And that new idea creates new jobs and that creates revenue for the state.

But if those who have the most money don’t pay their fair share of taxes, the state can’t function. The schools can’t produce the best and the brightest who will go on to create those jobs. If the wealthy get to keep most of their money, we have seen what they will do with it: recklessly gamble it on crazy Wall Street schemes and crash our economy. The crash they created cost us millions of jobs. That too caused a reduction in revenue. And the population ended up suffering because they reduced their taxes, reduced our jobs and took wealth out of the system, removing it from circulation.

The nation is not broke, my friends. Wisconsin is not broke. It’s part of the Big Lie. It’s one of the three biggest lies of the decade: America/Wisconsin is broke, Iraq has WMD, the Packers can’t win the Super Bowl without Brett Favre.

The truth is, there’s lots of money to go around. LOTS. It’s just that those in charge have diverted that wealth into a deep well that sits on their well-guarded estates. They know they have committed crimes to make this happen and they know that someday you may want to see some of that money that used to be yours. So they have bought and paid for hundreds of politicians across the country to do their bidding for them. But just in case that doesn’t work, they’ve got their gated communities, and the luxury jet is always fully fueled, the engines running, waiting for that day they hope never comes. To help prevent that day when the people demand their country back, the wealthy have done two very smart things:

1. They control the message. By owning most of the media they have expertly convinced many Americans of few means to buy their version of the American Dream and to vote for their politicians. Their version of the Dream says that you, too, might be rich some day — this is America, where anything can happen if you just apply yourself! They have conveniently provided you with believable examples to show you how a poor boy can become a rich man, how the child of a single mother in Hawaii can become president, how a guy with a high school education can become a successful filmmaker. They will play these stories for you over and over again all day long so that the last thing you will want to do is upset the apple cart, because you — yes, you, too! — might be rich/president/an Oscar-winner some day! The message is clear: keep your head down, your nose to the grindstone, don’t rock the boat and be sure to vote for the party that protects the rich man that you might be some day.

2. They have created a poison pill that they know you will never want to take. It is their version of mutually assured destruction. And when they threatened to release this weapon of mass economic annihilation in September of 2008, we blinked. As the economy and the stock market went into a tailspin, and the banks were caught conducting a worldwide Ponzi scheme, Wall Street issued this threat: Either hand over trillions of dollars from the American taxpayers or we will crash this economy straight into the ground. Fork it over or it’s Goodbye savings accounts. Goodbye pensions. Goodbye United States Treasury. Goodbye jobs and homes and future. It was friggin’ awesome and it scared the shit out of everyone. “Here! Take our money! We don’t care. We’ll even print more for you! Just take it! But, please, leave our lives alone, PLEASE!”

The executives in the board rooms and hedge funds could not contain their laughter, their glee, and within three months they were writing each other huge bonus checks and marveling at how perfectly they had played a nation full of suckers. Millions lost their jobs anyway, and millions lost their homes. But there was no revolt (see #1).

Until now. On, Wisconsin! Never has a Michigander been more happy to share a big, great lake with you! You have aroused the sleeping giant known as the working people of the United States of America. Right now the earth is shaking and the ground is shifting under the feet of those who are in charge. Your message has inspired people in all 50 states and that message is: WE HAVE HAD IT! We reject anyone who tells us America is broke and broken. It’s just the opposite! We are rich with talent and ideas and hard work and, yes, love. Love and compassion toward those who have, through no fault of their own, ended up as the least among us. But they still crave what we all crave: Our country back! Our democracy back! Our good name back! The United States of America. NOT the Corporate States of America. The United States of America!

So how do we get this? Well, we do it with a little bit of Egypt here, a little bit of Madison there. And let us pause for a moment and remember that it was a poor man with a fruit stand in Tunisia who gave his life so that the world might focus its attention on how a government run by billionaires for billionaires is an affront to freedom and morality and humanity.

Thank you, Wisconsin. You have made people realize this was our last best chance to grab the final thread of what was left of who we are as Americans. For three weeks you have stood in the cold, slept on the floor, skipped out of town to Illinois — whatever it took, you have done it, and one thing is for certain: Madison is only the beginning. The smug rich have overplayed their hand. They couldn’t have just been content with the money they raided from the treasury. They couldn’t be satiated by simply removing millions of jobs and shipping them overseas to exploit the poor elsewhere.

No, they had to have more — something more than all the riches in the world. They had to have our soul. They had to strip us of our dignity. They had to shut us up and shut us down so that we could not even sit at a table with them and bargain about simple things like classroom size or bulletproof vests for everyone on the police force or letting a pilot just get a few extra hours sleep so he or she can do their job — their $19,000 a year job. That’s how much some rookie pilots on commuter airlines make, maybe even the rookie pilots flying people here to Madison. But he’s stopped trying to get better pay. All he asks is that he doesn’t have to sleep in his car between shifts at O’Hare airport. That’s how despicably low we have sunk. The wealthy couldn’t be content with just paying this man $19,000 a year. They wanted to take away his sleep. They wanted to demean and dehumanize him. After all, he’s just another slob.

And that, my friends, is Corporate America’s fatal mistake. But trying to destroy us they have given birth to a movement — a movement that is becoming a massive, nonviolent revolt across the country. We all knew there had to be a breaking point some day, and that point is upon us. Many people in the media don’t understand this. They say they were caught off guard about Egypt, never saw it coming. Now they act surprised and flummoxed about why so many hundreds of thousands have come to Madison over the last three weeks during brutal winter weather. “Why are they all standing out there in the cold? I mean there was that election in November and that was supposed to be that!”

“There’s something happening here, and you don’t know what it is, do you …?”

America ain’t broke! The only thing that’s broke is the moral compass of the rulers. And we aim to fix that compass and steer the ship ourselves from now on. Never forget, as long as that Constitution of ours still stands, it’s one person, one vote, and it’s the thing the rich hate most about America — because even though they seem to hold all the money and all the cards, they begrudgingly know this one unshakeable basic fact: There are more of us than there are of them!

Madison, do not retreat. We are with you. We will win together.

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 the Government Gleefully Butchers the State, Mervyn King Blames Banks for Cuts, Questions Public Indifference and Warns of Future Crisis

For opponents of the gleeful butchers of the coalition government, bent on destroying the State to pay for Britain’s deficit, while protecting their thieving friends in the City who caused the financial crisis in the first place, and turning a blind eye to the corporate tax avoiders who could make up the shortfall instead, there was good news on Friday, as the results of a by-election in Barnsley Central were announced.

The Liberal Democrats saw their share of the vote drop from 17.3% in last year’s General Election to just 4.1%, and the Tories saw their share of the vote drop from 17.3% to 8.2%. Although the former MP Eric Illsley left under a cloud, imprisoned for fiddling his expenses, Labour bounced back under their new candidate Dan Jarvis, a former soldier who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, who took 60.8% of the vote, and observed that the people of Barnsley Central were sending the “strongest possible message” to David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

“Your reckless policies, your broken promises and unfair cuts are letting our country down,” he said. “I grew up in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain. I remember how angry it made me feel. Whole communities abandoned to unemployment, public services run down, talents wasted, opportunities taken away. Thatcher was wrong then and Cameron is wrong now.”

The voters of Barnsley Central were not the only people to deliver a damning verdict on the government and its policies last week. On Tuesday, in testimony to the Commons Treasury Committee, Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, said, as the Guardian described it, that “people made unemployed and businesses bankrupted during the crisis had every reason to be resentful and voice their protest.” King told the committee that “the billions spent bailing out the banks and the need for public spending cuts were the fault of the financial services sector.”

These are his exact words:

The price of this financial crisis is being borne by people who absolutely did not cause it. Now is the period when the cost is being paid, I’m surprised that the degree of public anger has not been greater than it has.

I was surely not the only reader bemused to find that I agreed 100 percent with Mervyn King’s analysis, but I couldn’t find anyone else in the Guardian prepared to point a finger so unerringly at the banking sector, and, by extension, at the coaltion government that has chosen to present its unprecendented programme of cuts to State funding for everything from the arts to the universities and from welfare to the NHS as being solely the fault of the Labour government.

The actor Bill Nighy popped up to claim that King’s comment that “he was ‘surprised that the degree of public anger has not been greater than it has’ suggests that either he had a very high expectation, or that he has misread the public mood.” Nighy, who noted, “I have been arguing for the last year that the banks, hedge funds and other titans of the City of London whose gambling got us into this trouble should pay to clean up the mess they caused,” took the opportunity to point out that he is “an ambassador for the Robin Hood Tax campaign, which calls for a tiny tax of just 0.05% on every casino-style financial transaction in order to help poor people, reverse public service cuts at home and abroad, and tackle climate change.”

This is all very worthwhile, but either Nighy has a different concept of anger to me (and Mervyn King) or it was he who had misread the governor’s remarks. The Robin Hood Tax campaign is one thing, but it is quite another for citizens to rise up in vast numbers, brandishing pitchforks, and setting off for the City with a Tahrir Square-style determinaton to not return home until the thieves responsible have been toppled from power, and the balance of blame and payment shifted to where it belongs.

Elsewhere, columnist Deborah Orr also turned up, claiming, “Yes, Mervyn King, we know the banks are to blame,” but failing, also, to summon up the anger that King sees as bafflingly absent from British life. Instead readers received a sound enough history lesson:

Both main parties had busied themselves with handing power over to the international financial sector for three decades, and their political surrender created an unaccountable financial elite that was and is, famously, too big to fail. It is too big, even, to be bossed around now that it has failed and been bailed out, apparently. A couple of years on from the crash, and still the nation waits fretfully for a coming report that will suggest some possible reforms. How can reform of the public services be so urgent, and reform of the financial sector so . . . laissez faire? It’s purely because politicians have themselves made the financial sector so monumentally powerful that it has become an unelected court of Versailles. Their paralysis is born of a refusal to own up, even to themselves.

This is all well and good — and true — but, again, there is no mention of pitchforks.

Beyond the students and schoolchildren who brought palpable anger back to Britain’s streets before Christmas, and who actually threatened the malignant politicians risking the collapse of Britain’s university system just to make overstretched young people even more in debt, perhaps the only people prepared to contemplate pitchforks, but to decide instead that economically disruptive political theatre is a good way to start the revolution, are the activists of UK Uncut, who are targeting banks and high street chains for their thievery and tax avoidance, with a simple but powerful message — and one that focuses unerringly on the only analysis that matters: recognizing that the banks, corporations and hypocritical politicians are the enemy, and that only the rich and the super-rich will benefit if we the people fail to make our voices heard.

This could be through the kind of anarchic street theatre favoured by UK Uncut, which has a long and powerful history in the UK, or though the creation of our own Tahrir Square, or, for that matter, through the creation of our own version of the occupation of the capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin, where, for three weeks, up to 100,000 people have been braving the winter cold in the first concerted opposition to further Republican greed at the expense of workers that has been seen in the US for decades.

If America can do it and we can’t, then we really are in the deepest of holes, and perhaps deserve to have so many of the things that are central to any notion of the common good — the NHS, the welfare state, our universities — privatized or otherwise broken. Forget the further impoverishment of the poor, the attacks on the unemployed and the disabled, the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs and livelihoods, the increase in homelessness, and even the criminalization of homelessness, and Ignore the fact that Cameron, Osborne, Clegg and their cronies have no mandate for these sweeping changes, and that they lied or omitted to mention most of them on the campaign trail or in their manifestoes.

Forget too, if you will, that, in an interview with the Daily Telegraph on Friday, Meryvn King warned that Britain risks another financial crisis unless it undertakes fundamental reform of the banking sector, even though the government is still furiously blaming the Labour government and ordinary people for the country’s financial problems, and George Osborne is “believed to be cautious about major structural changes” to the banking sector, even though these should, logically, involve more than empty hand-wringing about the kinds of bonuses announced recently, and the indecently small amounts of tax paid by banks, and should also lead to what the Guardian described as “a clear separation between high-street and investment banking operations to prevent the public from footing the bill for catastrophes on City trading floors.”

Readers who want to be truly alarmed by George Osborne’s love affair with bankers and big business should read George Monbiot’s recent columns about the Chancellor’s deliberate attempts to make Britain a kind of offshore tax haven, crippling “the common good” still further, and should compare the Chancellor’s position to that taken by Mervyn King, in some of the key passages in his interview with the Telegraph:

[A]lthough Mr King thinks the worst of the crisis was handled correctly, he does not think we are out of the woods. “We allowed a [banking] system to build up which contained the seeds of its own destruction”, and this has still not been remedied: “We’ve not yet solved the ‘too big to fail’ or, as I prefer to call it, the ‘too important to fail’ problem. The concept of being too important to fail should have no place in a market economy.”

I quote to him the recent remarks of Stephen Hester, the chief executive of the largely publicly owned RBS, in which he seemed simultaneously to say that RBS should pay little tax because it had made little profit, but also that it should pay big bonuses because its investment arm had made big profits. Wasn’t there some sort of contradiction? Mr King nods. The remark illustrates, he says, the clash between the needs of high-street banking and the ambitions of investment banking. The key question, in his view, is not why an individual bank says it needs to pay bonuses (the reason cited is always the need to keep talent), but: “Why do banks in general want to pay bonuses? It’s because they live in a ‘too big to fail’ world in which the state will bail them out on the downside.” They are tempted to excessive risk and excessive payments: “It is very unproductive to single out individuals. Bankers were given incentives to behave the way they did. That’s what needs to change. We must resolve this problem.” He has high hopes that the independent banking commission will do so. In the Governor’s mind, this is not ultimately a technical but a moral question. It goes to the heart of whether people are ready to accept life in a free economy.

Over the past 30 years, he says: “We changed Britain away from a sclerotic economy with inefficiencies and problems in labour relations. Everyone got to the point where we no longer expected government to bail us out. Everyone bought in to market discipline. We were all better off. It was working very successfully.” But now, people have every right to be angry, because “out of what seems to them a clear blue sky”, the crisis comes, they find they do lose their jobs and there’s the sharpest fall in world trade since the 1930s. “But, surprise, surprise, the institutions bailed out were those at the heart of the crisis. Hedge funds were allowed to fail, 3,000 of them have gone, but banks weren’t.” Could there be a repeat? “Yes! The problem is still there. The ‘search for yield’ goes on. Imbalances are beginning to grow again.”

Are you angry yet? I certainly hope so.

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.

Pressure for Change Continues in Egypt: PM Resigns And Constitutional Amendments Are Announced, But Some Protestors Have Disappeared or Been Convicted by Military Courts

In the three weeks since I last wrote about Egypt, following the fall of the dictator Hosni Mubarak and the assumption of control by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, a key question I asked at the time has, at least partly, been answered.

That question was: “whether enough people will stay out on the streets, and continue to engage in strike action, to ensure that a second key element of the protestors’ aims — primarily, the establishment of a civilian-controlled interim administration prior to free and fair elections, and an end to the state of emergency that was in force throughout Mubarak’s 30-year reign — will take place sooner rather than later — or, in the gloomiest scenario, not at all.”

The permanent occupation of Egypt’s public spaces — most famously, Tahrir Square in Cairo, but also in the streets of Alexandria and in other towns and cities across the country — overwhelmed Mubarak with sheer numbers (eight million people!) in just 18 days, but was, it is fair to say, unsustainable once the main object of the revolution relinquished control after 30 years.

Nevertheless, it was crucial that protestors continued to exert pressure, as it was by no means certain that Egypt’s aging military leaders — Mubarak’s former colleagues — could be trusted to effect the radical change demanded by the popular revolution: the immediate dissolution of Mubarak’s cabinet and “suspension of the parliament elected in a rigged poll late last year,” plus a transitional administration appointed with four civilians and one military official to prepare for elections in nine months and to oversee the drafting of a new constitution, as one group of activists prominent in Tahrir Square explained.

As the Washington Post explained at the time:

Another organizer of the protests, Issa Adel Issa, stated, “We don’t want a military government. We want a democracy with civilians in charge.” As the Post described it, he “ticked off a list of demands: the dissolution of Mubarak’s handpicked parliament; the dissolution of his ruling National Democratic Party; the release of thousands of political prisoners; and prosecution of those responsible for the deaths of an estimated 300 demonstrators who were killed during the 18-day revolution.”

In the three weeks since the ousting of Mubarak, new political parties, and others that were previously banned or sidelined (like the Muslim Brotherhood) have begun to organize themselves, as the newly liberated newspaper Al-Ahram reported on Friday.

Crucially, however, protests have also continued, and on Thursday the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces responded to protests about Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, the former air force officer appointed by Mubarak soon after the revolution began on 25 January (and, presumably, fears that Friday’s gathering in Tahrir Square could otherwise have become unmanageable), by announcing that he had resigned, to be replaced by former transport minister Essam Sharaf, who, as the Associated Press  explained, was asked “to form a new caretaker cabinet to run the government throughout a transition back to civilian rule.”

Ironically, Shafiq may have invited his own dismissal through the arrogant and condescending position he took on the first ever open debate involving an Egyptian politician, which was broadacast the night before, and which saw him tussle with the novelist Alaa Al Aswany.

If reform continues as the protestors hope, Essam Sharaf’s new cabinet will led to the further exclusion of Mubarak’s former allies from the caretaker government. On February 22, the Supreme Council had sworn in a cabinet with 11 new ministers, although four former members of the Mubarak regime retained senior posts. One of these was Ahmed Shafiq, but two others — Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit and Justice Minister Mamdouh Marie and Interior Minister Mahmoud Wagdy, appointed by Mubarak on January 31 (and tainted by his former role as Director of the Prison Authority) — remain, and their continued presence in the cabinet means that critics are unlikely to back down. On February 22, Muhammad Abbas, a member of the Egypt Youth Coalition, another organization that played a role in the uprising, had described the changes as “patchwork,” and had “called for swift, comprehensive changes,” and he was obviously echoing a breadth of popular opinion.

In contrast, on Friday, as the Guardian explained, the new Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, a US-educated engineer, who had briefly served under Mubarak as transport minister, distanced himself from the old regime by visiting Tahrir Square — where hundreds of thousands of people had gathered, in large part to celebrate the resignation of Ahmed Shafiq — and calling on the protesters to “rebuild the country,” adding that “he would step down if he failed to meet their demands.”

Sharaf, regarded by many of those involved in the uprising as “one of their own” because he supported the revolution and even “led a small protest among members of faculty at Cairo University as part of last month’s mass demonstrations,” told the delighted crowd, “I salute the martyrs. Glory and respect to the families of the victims and a special salute to everyone who took part and gave for this white revolution. I am here to draw my legitimacy from you. You are the ones to whom legitimacy belongs.”

“The mission that I am trying to realize, with all my heart, is your goals,” Sharaf added, “promising,” as the Guardian put it, “to join the protesters in the square if he could not achieve their demands.”

Even so, those demands are still largely unfulfilled: “an end to Mubarak’s National Democratic party; the abolition of the state security agency, which is blamed for some of the worst human rights violations under Mubarak; the prosecution of security officials behind the deaths of protesters; and the release of political prisoners,” as the Guardian explained.

With reports of prisoners seized during the uprising being tortured (also see my article, In Egypt, Protests Undimmed, as Mubarak Prepares to Cede Power, Torture Stories Emerge and the Revolution Finds a Hero in Wael Ghonim), and with pro-democracy activist Amr Abdallah Elbihiry given a five-year sentence last week by a military court, under the terrible state of emergency that was in place throughout Mubarak’s reign, and that has not been revoked, it is clear that large-scale protests must continue, as few of the demands outlined above have been met. (For further information, see this Human Rights Watch news article).

Other efforts to push the reform agenda occurred elsewhere on Friday, when thousands of protesters surrounded the State Security buildings in Alexandria and Giza, demanding the dissolution of the security forces and the release of political prisoners. At both locations, protesters carried anti-torture signs, and in Alexandria four people were seriously injured, after police reportedly opened fire on the protesters.

While this kind of unrest is likely to continue, progress has been achieved on three other fronts, beyond the resignation of Ahmed Shafiq. The first is the trial of former interior minister Habib al-Adly, which began on Saturday. Accused of money laundering and unlawful acquisition of public money, al-Adly, who “was arrested last month as part of a sweeping corruption investigation by the new authorities, along with several former ministers and senior members of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party,” is also “being investigated for ordering the shooting of protesters with live bullets during 18 days of riots that brought down Mubarak,” as AFP reported. He pleaded not guilty on Saturday, but the judge adjourned further hearings until April 2.

The second area in which progress has been achieved is a national referendum on constitutional amendments drafted by a committee of experts, which, on Friday, the Supreme Council announced would take place on March 19, and the third is the release of political prisoners, which I will discuss in a separate article to follow.

Proposed constitutional amendments

Amendments have been proposed to a number of articles in the Egyptian Constitution, including the following changes to:

  • Article 76, removing requirements which severely — and deliberately — limit who can stand as a Presidential candidate;
  • Article 77, limiting presidential terms to two four-year periods instead of the indefinite consecutive six-year terms used by Mubarak;
  • Article 88, which assigns electoral oversight to judicial authorities, to prevent vote-rigging;
  • Article 139, which would make it obligatory for the next President to appoint a deputy within two months of assuming office; and
  • Article 189, allowing Parliament to amend the Constitution.

Not everyone is happy with the scope of the proposed changes. The constitutional amendments do not, for example, address the exclusion of women from Egypt’s political life, or acknowledge the key role played by women in the uprising, and have led to an official complaint by 63 Egyptian organizations. As the Soros Open Society Foundation noted:

In a petition signed last week, the groups said that a committee without a single female legal expert — of which there are many in Egypt — “triggers fears and suspicions with regards to the future of Egypt” after the January 25 revolution. This raises a key question about “the main aims of the revolution which were initially spelled out as equality, freedom, democracy, and participation of all citizens,” the groups said. Women “have the right to participate in building the new Egyptian state.” The petition also questions the selection criteria of Constitutional Committee members and says that women participated equally in the revolution and that some of them have been jailed.

In other ways, however, the proposals represent major reform, and as the newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm reported, Mohammed Beshr, a senior figure in the Muslim Brotherhood, said they were a positive “first step in the right direction,” adding, “A lot more needs to be done, but let’s do that after the election when we have a new elected assembly making a new constitution.” His views were echoed by Abouel Ela Mady, a former Muslim Brotherhood member who now leads the recently-approved Wasat Party, who said that he “accepted the changes in the majority,” and noted that they would lead to “serious candidates” being fielded for the elections.

From the left, Wael Khalil, an engineer, blogger and activist who was prominent in the Tahrir Square protests “expressed his support for the changes,” as Al-Masry Al-Youm reported, and said that he was “pleasantly surprised” by the commission’s suggestions. “I am very pleased with them,” he said. “I thought we would never get limits on terms.”

Most significant, from a human rights point of view, is the proposal to to repeal Article 179, adopted in March 2007, which, as Amnesty International explained in a news release on February 28 approving its proposed abolition, “effectively wrote emergency-style powers into the Constitution, overriding constitutional guarantees against arbitrary arrest and detention; police searches without a warrant; and bugging of telephone calls and other private communications,” and also allows the President “to bypass the ordinary courts and refer terrorism suspects – including civilians – to a judicial authority of his choice, including military and emergency courts which have no right of appeal and a long history of conducting unfair trials.”

As Amnesty also noted, “The March 2007 referendum adopting Article 179 was boycotted by the political opposition and widely criticized by independent national monitors. At the time, Amnesty International denounced the adoption of the article as the greatest erosion of human rights in 26 years.”

Amnesty also “repeated its call to the Egyptian authorities to immediately lift the 30-year-old state of emergency,” expressing some alarm that another current proposal — to amend Article 148, making states of emergency longer than six months subject to a public referendum, “would be inconsistent with international law.” Amnesty added, “Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Egypt is a state party, any measures which suspend rights during a state of emergency must be of an exceptional and temporary nature – rather than be subject to routine ratification by a public referendum.”

This is a crucial point, but as with so many of the changes taking place in post-Mubarak Egypt, it is unlikely that it will remain unchallenged. As the protestors in Alexandria and Giza showed on Friday, a major part of the seemingly relentless demand for change unleashed by Egypt’s popular revolution concerns the state of emergency, and the brutal and unaccountable actions of the various state security services, without which, as the novelist Alaa Al Aswany explained in an important article last year, a new Egypt cannot arise.

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.

Deranged Gaddafi Blames Ex-Guantánamo Prisoners for Unrest in Libya, Even Though Only One Ex-Prisoner Has Been Released

Colonel Gaddafi has long demonstrated a fundamental disregard for the life of the Libyan people. Not content with murdering 1,200 prisoners in the Abu Salim prison massacre in June 1996, he then allowed men like Fouad Assad ben Omran, who recently spoke to Lindsey Hilsum of Channel 4 News, to make the journey to the gates of the prison for 14 years, to deliver food and clothing for his brother-in-law, before finally letting ben Omran know that his journeys had all been in vain, and  that his brother-in-law had been killed in the massacre.

While this anecdote rather chillingly demostrates Gaddafi’s disregard for human life — also demonstrated in his first speech against the revolution on February 22, when he urged supporters to “chase away the rats and terrorists” and threatened to “cleanse Libya house by house” — he also seems to have a tenuous grip on sanity, as revealed in his most recent speech, when, as CNN reported:

In another of his trademark lengthy, rambling speeches carried on state television, Gaddafi continued to claim that there are no peaceful Libyan protests, only al-Qaeda-backed efforts to tear the country apart. He blamed the problems on former prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, who were released to Libya and then freed by Libyan authorities after they pledged to reform. He said they turned out to be members of al Qaeda sleeper cells — but insisted that his country is “stopping al- Qaeda from flourishing” and preventing Osama bin Laden from moving into North Africa.

Perhaps the mention of al-Qaeda was meant to reassure his former allies in the West that there was still some life in the discredited “War on Terror” that he joined so adroitly in 2004, but if this was his hope, he appears to have missed the fact that the popular uprisings in the Middle East are actually showing that all that was achieved by signing up to the “War on Terror” on the basis of a shared crusade with the US against terrorism was to alienate the people still further, as police states were reinforced and arms budgets increased, and the ordinary people — rather than spectral terrorists — were the ones who largely suffered.

In addition, even the most cursory investigation of the “former prisoners at Guantánamo Bay” reveals that only two Libyans have been repatriated since the prison opened over nine years ago, and that, of these two men, only one has been freed, and the other is still languishing in Abu Salim prison.

The man still held is Muhammad al-Rimi (also identified as Muhammad al-Futuri or Abdesalam Safrani), a refugee from the Gaddafi regime, who was repatriated from Guantánamo in December 2006, and the released man is certainly no al-Qaeda terrorist, as I reported at the time of his release, on August 31 last year, with 36 other men described as political prisoners. As I explained at the time:

They included a former Guantánamo prisoner transferred to Libyan custody nearly three years ago, in October 2007, named by AFP as Abu Sofian Ben Guemou, and by Reuters as Sofiane Ibrahim Gammu. Reuters noted that media reports had “quoted an official in the Gaddafi Foundation as saying Gammu was a former driver for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden,” but as he left the prison on Tuesday, he stated, “I am not bin Laden’s driver. It’s a misunderstanding.”

This was almost certainly true. Identified in Guantánamo as Abu Sufian Hamouda or Abu Sufian bin Qumu, his story, as revealed in publicly available documents, suggests that the bin Laden connection was only relevant in relation to a job that he took in Sudan for a company owned by bin Laden, when the al-Qaeda leader was involved in construction work and other activities unrelated to terrorism between 1992 and 1996, prior to his expulsion from Sudan and his return to Afghanistan.

As Hamouda explained in Guantánamo (and as I reported at the time of his transfer to Libyan custody):

[H]e had served in the Libyan army as a tank driver from 1979 to 1990, but was “arrested and jailed on multiple occasions for drug and alcohol offenses.” Having apparently escaped from prison in 1992, he fled to Sudan, where he worked as a truck driver. In an attempt to beef up the evidence against him, the Department of Defense alleged that the company he worked for, the Wadi al-Aqiq company, was “owned by Osama bin Laden,” and also attempted to claim that he joined the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group … even while admitting that an unidentified “al-Qaeda/LIFG facilitator” had described him as “a noncommittal LIFG member who received no training.”

After relocating to Pakistan, [he] apparently stayed there until the summer of 2001, when he and a friend crossed the border into Afghanistan, traveling to Jalalabad and then to Kabul, where [he] found a job working as an accountant for Abdul Aziz al-Matrafi, the director of al-Wafa, a Saudi charity which provided humanitarian aid to Afghans, but which was regarded by the US authorities as a front for al-Qaeda.

In the years since Hamouda’s transfer to Libyan custody, everyone connected to al-Wafa, including Abdul Aziz al-Matrafi, has been released, but in any case, as I also explained at the time:

[His] involvement with the organization centered on its humanitarian work … In the “evidence” presented for his Combatant Status Review Tribunal — under factors purporting to demonstrate that he “supported military operations against the United States or its coalition partners” — it was stated that, while working for al-Wafa, he traveled to Kunduz “to oversee the distribution of rice that was being guarded by four to five armed guards.” In Guantánamo, it seems, even the distribution of rice can be regarded as a component in a military operation.

I also explained:

Captured in Islamabad, after fleeing from Afghanistan following the US-led invasion, [he] was held for a month by the Pakistani authorities, and was then handed over to the Americans, who began mining him for the flimsy “evidence” of terrorist activities outlined above. Earlier this year [2007], he was cleared for release, and, despite misgivings on the part of his lawyers, stated that he was prepared to return to Libya, even though what awaits him may not be any better than what he was suffered over the last five years. Perhaps, as one of Guantánamo’s truly lost men, he has decided that, if he is to spend the rest of his life in prison for no apparent reason, he would rather be in Libya, where his wife and his family might be able to see him, than in Guantánamo, where, like every other detainee, he was more isolated from his relatives than even the deadliest convicted mass murderer on the US mainland.

In September 2008, Human Rights Watch stated in a report that, according to the US State Department, officials had visited Hamouda in December 2007, and that, although the Libyan security forces “were holding him on unknown charges and apparently without access to a lawyer … he did not complain of maltreatment [and] was scheduled to receive a family visit” at the end of the month. The Gaddafi Foundation [founded by one of Gaddafi's sons, Saif al-Islam, with the avowed intention of supporting charitable work and upholding human rights] subsequently claimed that he had indeed been “granted a family visit,” and added that the foundation was providing an apartment for his family in Tripoli.

It would, of course, be useful if other media outlets bothered to research Gaddafi’s wild claims, but it would be prudent to expect, instead, that the “al-Qaeda in Libya” narrative will drizzle its way insiduously into discussions about Libya’s future — not aided, it must be said, by comments that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made on Wednesday to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

After stating, “One of our biggest concerns is Libya descending into chaos and becoming a giant Somalia,” Clinton proceeded to express “her concern about the number of al-Qaeda recruits that have come from Libya,” as ABC News described it, “suggesting the power vacuum that could result from the unrest in that country could be ripe for exploitation from terror groups,” as happened in Somalia.

With these words, Clinton demonstrated that the tired rhetoric of the “War on Terror” — in which exiled political opponents of Gaddafi were automatically labelled as al-Qaeda, to Gaddafi’s benefit — is not only a lie to which a desperate tyrant clings, but is also a lie that is still being kept alive in the corridors of power in the US, where some hawkish types are already looking for an opportunity to see terrorists where, as the actual record inconveniently shows, there are none.

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.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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The Guantánamo Files book cover

The Guantánamo Files

The Battle of the Beanfield book cover

The Battle of the Beanfield

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion book cover

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

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Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo

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