When I was a child, I read the Guinness Book of Records, and marvelled at the stories of the people who, in ancient times, removed themselves from everyday reality, like Saint Simeon Stylites, a Christian ascetic who lived on a tiny platform on top of a pillar in Aleppo, Syria for 37 years in the 5th century AD.
As I grew up, I continued to hear about people who had similarly removed themselves from the everyday world, and had come to be be regarded as prophets or as saints, appealing to those bound by the norms of everyday life — or in some cases vilified by them. However, they were always in countries that were not part of the so-called “first world,” where dissent is tolerated only so long as it is toothless, and the authorities have no patience for anyone who would occupy a public place in pursuit of a higher purpose.
Nevertheless, on June 2, 2001, Brian Haw, born in Barking, Essex, who was married with seven children, and, at the time, was 52 years old, took up residence opposite the Houses of Parliament, initially protesting about the British government’s involvement in the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq, which, he maintained, were responsible for the deaths of 200 Iraqi children per day.
After a long battle with lung cancer, Brian Haw died on Saturday June 18, but for ten years he maintained his protest, along the way becoming a hero for anyone not convinced that Britain, the US and other countries in the West should be engaged in perpetual war, in which hundreds of thousands of civilians have died. Read the rest of this entry »
On Sunday June 26, 2011, the International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, I’ll be speaking in Trafalgar Square as part of an event organised by the London Guantánamo Campaign and Kingston Peace Council/CND. The event runs from 2-4 pm, and speakers include:
There will also be speakers from Amnesty International, Stop The War Coalition, the International Committee Against Disappearances and the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, and others to be announced. Read the rest of this entry »
Two weeks ago, as I explained in a previous article here, I took part in a studio discussion at Press TV’s London studios, commenting on the excellent new documentary film, “You Don’t Like the Truth: 4 Days Inside Guantánamo.” Directed by Luc Cote and Patricio Hernandez, this award-winning film focuses on the story of Guantánamo prisoner Omar Khadr, and will be officially released in the UK on September 30, 2011.
However, readers in London who are interested in this film can see it tomorrow (June 19) in University College London (UCL), in central London, as part of a weekend of Guantánamo films put together by Dochouse. Based at Riverside Studios, in Hammersmith, Dochouse has been supporting and promoting documentaries in the UK since 2002. The “Exposing Guantánamo” weekend is part of the Open City London Documentary Festival, which also features “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (which I directed with Polly Nash).
For further information about “Exposing Guantánamo,” see my article here (providing further details about the “Exposing Guantánamo” weekend), in which I described “You Don’t Like the Truth” as follows:
This powerful new film features excerpts from seven hours of video footage of Canadian agents interrogating child prisoner and Canadian citizen Omar Khadr at Guantánamo over a four-day period in 2003. It reveals how his joy at meeting representatives of his own government turned to despair when he realized that they had not come to Guantánamo to help him, and important commentary on the footage is provided by Khadr’s US and Canadian lawyers, by journalist Michelle Shephard, by former US guard Damien Corsetti, and by former prisoners, including Omar Deghayes and Moazzam Begg. The footage was released by the Canadian courts after a ruling that Khadr’s rights had been violated, which was subsequently ignored by the Canadian government. Read the rest of this entry »
In the US government’s farcical world of overclassification, four reporters were banned from Guantánamo last year for reporting the name of a witness in the trial by Military Commission of the Canadian citizen and former child prisoner Omar Khadr, even though his name had been widely reported in the media, and was available online.
That was the Defense Department’s doing, but the whole story of WikiLeaks and its exposure of classified US documents — whether it is the Collateral Murder video, the Afghan and Iraqi war logs, the diplomatic cables, or the Detainee Assessment Briefs from Guantánamo — is one of overclassification across every government department, in which material that should not necessarily be secret was, until it was leaked, jealously guarded by a government that behaves as though it was not elected by the people, and is not answerable to them.
The treasure trove of documents released to WikiLeaks also came about because, after the pre–9/11 failures of the intelligence agencies to communicate with one another, the creation of a vast database accessible by, literally, millions of government employees, was designed to facilitate the sharing of useful information. This was in spite of the fact that it should also have been obvious that, with so many people having access to it, it was only a matter of time before someone concerned with transparency and justice — allegedly Pfc. Bradley Manning, imprisoned for leaking the documents since last May — would take advantage of the 21st century whistleblowing opportunities made available by WikiLeaks to let the world know what it was missing. Read the rest of this entry »
A few days ago, I spoke for the 28th time to Scott Horton, who has had me on his Antiwar Radio show on a refreshingly regular basis over the last few years to vent my spleen at the continuing abomination that is Guantánamo, Obama’s failure to close it, and the disgraceful behaviour of other parties — opportunistic, fearmongering Republicans, cowardly Democrats, deranged judges and the now spineless Supreme Court — who have also failed to bring the Guantánamo years to an end, and to return America to the rule of law that existed before the 9/11 attacks.
The 32-minute show is available here, and this time around Scott not only publicised my recent fundraising appeal, which is ongoing, as I still have $400 to raise to reach my quarterly target of $2000, but also asked me to discuss the latest dismal news about Barack Obama, the President who failed. The specific spur for the show — as well as my fundraising appeal — was my recently completed five-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Unknown Prisoners of Guantánamo,” in which I told the stories of 84 of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo that had never been told before. Read the rest of this entry »
Freelance investigative journalist Andy Worthington continues his 70-part, million-word series telling, for the first time, the stories of 776 of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. Adding information released by WikiLeaks in April 2011 to the existing documentation about the prisoners, much of which was already covered in Andy’s book The Guantánamo Files and in the archive of articles on his website, the project will be completed in time for the 10th anniversary of the prison’s opening on January 11, 2012.
This is Part 5 of the 70-part series.
One of the great publicity coups in WikiLeaks’ recent release of classified military documents relating to the majority of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo, as I explained in the first part of this five-part series, was to shine a light on the stories of the first 201 prisoners to be freed from the prison between its opening, in January 2002, and September 2004, when 35 prisoners were repatriated to Pakistan, and 11 were repatriated to Afghanistan.
A handful of these 46 prisoners were cleared for release as a result of the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, a one-sided process, which ran from August 2004 to March 2005 and was designed to rubber-stamp the prisoners’ prior designation as “enemy combatants,” who could continue to be held indefinitely. Information about the 558 prisoners who passed through the CSRT process (PDF) was first made publicly available in 2006, but no records have ever been publicly released by the US government which provide any information whatsoever about the 201 released, or approved for release before the CSRTs began, except for a prisoner list released in May 2006 (PDF), which contains the names, nationalities, and, where known, dates of birth and places of birth for 759 prisoners (all but the 20 who arrived at Guantánamo between September 2006 and March 2008).
In the years since the documents relating to the CSRTs were released (and information relating to their annual follow-ups, the Administrative Review Boards, or ARBs), I attempted to track down the stories of these 201 men, and managed, largely through successful research that led to relevant media reports, interviews and reports compiled by NGOs, to discover information about 114 of these prisoners, but nothing at all was known about 87 others (except for their names, and, in some cases, their date of birth and place of birth). With the release of the WikiLeaks files, all but three of these 87 stories have emerged for the very first time, and in this series of articles, I am transcribing and condensing these stories, and providing them with some necessary context. The first 68 stories were in Part One, Part Two, Part Three and Part Four, and the final instalment is below. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday, former Guantánamo prisoner Adel al-Gazzar (aka Adel El-Gazzar), who had been living in Slovakia since being freed last January from America’s notorious prison on Cuban soil, returned, for the first time in ten years, to his home county, Egypt, where he was promptly arrested.
This was not because of anything he had done, but because, as a critic of the regime, he had left the country in 2001, and had been in Pakistan, undertaking humanitarian work in a refugee camp when he was caught in a US bombing raid (which, with subsequent medical neglect on the part of the US authorities, led to him losing a leg). As a result, following his departure from Egypt, he had been given a three-year sentence in absentia by the Egyptian State Security Court for his alleged part in a supposed plot that was known as al-Wa’ad.
This, as the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm explained, was “the first major terrorism case in Egypt” after the 9/11 attacks, in which the defendants — 94 in total — were charged with “attempting to overthrow former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime and infiltrate Palestinian territory.” However, the case “was widely condemned as an attempt by Mubarak to suppress his Islamist opponents,” and this was an interpretation that carried considerable weight, as “[m]ore than half of the suspects were subsequently released.” Read the rest of this entry »
Late on Sunday evening, I publicized a conference call taking place on Monday to discuss an appeal in a court case brought by the families of two of the three men who died at Guantánamo on June 9, 2006 under mysterious circumstances. The supposed triple suicide of the three men — Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, Salah Ahmed al-Salami and Mani Shaman al-Utaybi — was questioned when it took place five years ago by former prisoners who knew the men, as I reported in an article last year, Murders at Guantánamo: The Cover-Up Continues, and the official story was challenged in the most spectacular manner last January, when law professor and Harper’s columnist Scott Horton drew on the testimony of four soldiers who were manning the watch towers on the night in question. Their accounts indicate that the men could not have committed suicide, as alleged, and that there must be some other explanation — possibly that they were killed either by accident or design during torture sessions at a remote facility, identified as “Camp No,” located outside the main perimeter fence of the Guantánamo prison.
Despite the gravity of these allegations, there has been no independent investigation into the soldiers’ claims, as aired in Harper’s Magazine, and the families’ attempts to have their questions about the deaths answered in a US court have also been thwarted. Although the families of Yasser al-Zahrani and Salah al-Salami launched a case in January 2009, and later resubmitted it with new material from the Harper’s story, a judge in the District Court in Washington D.C. — Judge Ellen Huvelle — declared last September that she was unable to proceed with the case, because existing legislation (the Military Commissions Act) prevented a court from “‘hear[ing] or consider[ing] any other action against the United States or its agents relating to any aspect of the detention, transfer, treatment, trial, or conditions of confinement’ of an alien detained and determined to be an enemy combatant,” and also because the courts have accepted the government’s arguments that judges must not intrude on national security issues. Read the rest of this entry »
Friday June 10, as I explained in an article at the time, marked the fifth anniversary of the disputed triple suicide of three prisoners at Guantánamo, and on Monday June 13, to mark the filing of new legal documents as part of the families’ attempts to secure justice, lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York are holding a telephone conference, open to the public, with the participation of Scott Horton and Talal al-Zahrani.
Scott Horton is the lawyer and Harper’s columnist who, last January, wrote a shocking exposé about the alleged suicides, revealing contrary accounts from soldiers who had been present at the time, and Talal al-Zahrani is the father of Yasser al-Zahrani, one of the three prisoners who died — and was himself an official in the Saudi Interior Ministry. As I explained in an article on Saturday, WikiLeaks and the 22 Children of Guantánamo, Yasser al-Zahrani was just 17 years old when he was seized in Afghanistan and taken to Guantánamo.
Yasser al-Zahrani’s family, and the family of Salah al-Salami, another of the three men who died, have been seeking justice in the US courts since January 2009, but lost their case last September, in the District Court in Washington D.C., when Judge Ellen Huvelle found her hands tied. She wrote that “the section of the MCA [Military Commissions Act] removing from the courts ‘jurisdiction to hear or consider any other action against the United States or its agents relating to any aspect of the detention, transfer, treatment, trial, or conditions of confinement’ of an alien detained and determined to be an enemy combatant by the United States is still valid law.” Read the rest of this entry »
In May 2008, in a submission to the 48th Session of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (PDF), the Pentagon claimed that it had only held eight juveniles — those under the age of 18 when their alleged crimes took place — during the life of the Guantánamo Bay prison. This, however, was a lie, as its own documents providing the names and dates of birth of prisoners, released in May 2006 (PDF), showed that the true total was much higher.
In November 2008, the UC Davis Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas published a report, “Guantánamo’s Children: Military and Diplomatic Testimonies,” presenting evidence that 12 juveniles had been held, and this was then officially acknowledged by the Pentagon.
The next week, however, I produced another report, “The Pentagon Can’t Count: 22 Juveniles Held at Guantánamo,” providing evidence that at least 22 juvenile prisoners had been held, and drawing on the Pentagon’s own documents, or on additional statements made by the Pentagon, to confirm my claims.
Two and a half years later, I stand by that report, and am only prepared to concede that up to three of the prisoners I identified as juveniles may have been 18 at the time of their capture. In the meantime, I have identified three more juvenile prisoners, and possibly three others, bringing the total back to 22, and possibly as many as 28. Read the rest of this entry »
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