Archive for September, 2011

“Syria: Inside the Secret Revolution” – Harrowing BBC Documentary Tells the Truth About Bashar Al-Assad’s Brutality

This week, the BBC broadcast a compelling “Panorama” programme about Syria (available below via YouTube, but also available here via iPlayer), in which reporter Jane Corbin, tracing the roots of the people’s uprising against the dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad, focused on Deraa, the town of 80,000 inhabitants in the south of Syria where, after intellectuals and human rights activists began protesting in Damascus in mid-March (followed by many arrests), the townspeople of Deraa took over the struggle against the Assad regime, protesting about how some of their children were arrested and tortured for two weeks after scribbling graffiti critical of the regime.

The film includes shocking footage taken in Deraa by local activists and journalists, breaking through the almost total ban on foreign journalists, some of which has never been shown before, and it reveals how, from the beginning, the regime responded to peaceful protests with random killings by snipers, designed to quell dissent through fear. The footage also reveals how the security forces targeted medical staff inside ambulances, to prevent them from treating the wounded, and also contains other distressing footage from March and April, when the security forces roamed Deraa, seizing people and taking them away — to be tortured, and often killed.

As the protests spread to other towns, the violence increased, and on April 25, Deraa was besieged by the Syrian army, and many more protestors — men, women and children — were killed, both in the town, and amongst supporters from nearby towns who tried to break the blockade and deliver supplies. Others — including children — were taken away and tortured, as happened with 13-year old Hamza al-Khateeb, and it is estimated that across Syria over a hundred children have been killed by the army and the security services since March. Read the rest of this entry »

The Dale Farm Eviction: How Racism Against Gypsies and Travellers Grips Modern-Day Britain

As the Gypsy and Traveller community at Dale Farm in Essex continues its long struggle against eviction with another High Court hearing today, seeking a judicial review on a number of grounds, including the absolutely crucial basis that it is “disproportionate” to remove a family from their home when no suitable alternative accommodation exists, a YouGov poll reveals that two-thirds of those asked believe that it is appropriate for Basildon Council to spend £18 million on evicting around 400 people (86 families, including many children) from land they own, but on which they were not given permission to build permanent residences by the council.

Many of those who support the eviction claim to believe that spending £18 million that surely could be spent more usefully elsewhere in the Basildon area is appropriate, because the site the Dale Farm residents own in on green belt land (albeit on the site of a former scrap yard) and it is a necessary principle.

There is some truth in this, to the extent that British people across the political spectrum are obsessed with protecting green belt land from anyone developing it — and not just Gypsies and Travellers — but I find it impossible not to detect the stench of hypocrisy emanating from those taking time out of their otherwise busy lives to obsess about the Dale Farm residents, as I cannot conceive of this happening if the men, women and children to be evicted — at £45,000 a head —  were not Travellers and Gypsies.

Racism towards Gypsies is something that settled communities like to pretend doesn’t exist, but it remains virulent  and disgraceful, and is clearly at the heart of the conflict over Dale Farm. Read the rest of this entry »

“Occupy Wall Street”: My Support for the Protestors in the “Financial Gomorrah of America”

Where have I been for the last 12 days? Obviously, an ocean away from Wall Street, or I would have been there with the protestors of “Occupy Wall Street,” who have taken anti-capitalist protest to the heart of the beast — Wall Street, where the financial crisis caused by the unfettered greed of an unregulated market first manifested itself over three years ago.

The movement began in July with a call from Adbusters for people to gather in Wall Street to protest “against the greatest corrupter of our democracy: Wall Street, the financial Gomorrah of America.”

“On September 17,” the announcement continued, “we want to see 20,000 people flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months. Once there, we shall incessantly repeat one simple demand in a plurality of voices.”

That one simple demand was apparently for Barack Obama to “ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington,” which seemed to me to be a compete waste of time. However, once activists picked up on Adbusters‘ call, and began mobilizing, something different emerged — a movement that drew on the anti-globalization movement of the late 90s and early 2000s, which was snuffed out by the “War on Terror,” and, of course, on the recent trajectory of protest and revolution, from Tunisia to Tahrir Square and elsewhere in the Middle East, and also in Europe, as manifested in Greece and Spain and even on the streets of the UK, and in Madison, Wisconsin, where huge protests took place earlier this year. Read the rest of this entry »

The Complete Guantánamo Files: WikiLeaks and the Prisoners Released in 2006 (Part Three of Ten)

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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 23 of the 70-part series. 293 stories have now been told. See the entire archive here.

In late April, I worked with WikiLeaks as a media partner for the publication of thousands of pages of classified military documents — the Detainee Assessment Briefs — relating to almost all of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. These documents drew heavily on the testimony of the prisoners themselves, and also on the testimony of their fellow inmates (either in Guantánamo, or in secret prisons run by or on behalf of the CIA), whose statements are unreliable, either because they were subjected to torture or other forms of coercion, or because they provided false statements in the hope of securing better treatment in Guantánamo.

The documents were compiled by the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo (JTF GTMO), which operates the prison, and were based on assessments and reports made by interrogators and analysts whose primary concern was to “exploit” the prisoners for their intelligence value. They also include input from the Criminal Investigative Task Force, created by the DoD in 2002 to conduct interrogations on a law enforcement basis, rather than for “actionable intelligence.”

My ongoing analysis of the documents began in May, with a five-part series, “WikiLeaks: The Unknown Prisoners of Guantánamo,” telling the stories of 84 prisoners, released between 2002 and 2004, whose stories had never been told before. This was followed by a ten-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004,” in which I revisited the stories of 114 other prisoners released in this period, adding information from the Detainee Assessment Briefs to what was already known about these men and boys from press reports and other sources. This was followed by another five-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released After the Tribunals, 2004 to 2005,” dealing with the period from September 2004 to the end of 2005, when 62 prisoners were released. Read the rest of this entry »

The Complete Guantánamo Files: WikiLeaks and the Prisoners Released in 2006 (Part Two of Ten)

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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 22 of the 70-part series. 282 stories have now been told. See the entire archive here.

In late April, I worked with WikiLeaks as a media partner for the publication of thousands of pages of classified military documents — the Detainee Assessment Briefs — relating to almost all of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. These documents drew heavily on the testimony of the prisoners themselves, and also on the testimony of their fellow inmates (either in Guantánamo, or in secret prisons run by or on behalf of the CIA), whose statements are unreliable, either because they were subjected to torture or other forms of coercion, or because they provided false statements in the hope of securing better treatment in Guantánamo.

The documents were compiled by the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo (JTF GTMO), which operates the prison, and were based on assessments and reports made by interrogators and analysts whose primary concern was to “exploit” the prisoners for their intelligence value. They also include input from the Criminal Investigative Task Force, created by the DoD in 2002 to conduct interrogations on a law enforcement basis, rather than for “actionable intelligence.”

My ongoing analysis of the documents began in May, with a five-part series, “WikiLeaks: The Unknown Prisoners of Guantánamo,” telling the stories of 84 prisoners, released between 2002 and 2004, whose stories had never been told before. This was followed by a ten-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004,” in which I revisited the stories of 114 other prisoners released in this period, adding information from the Detainee Assessment Briefs to what was already known about these men and boys from press reports and other sources. This was followed by another five-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released After the Tribunals, 2004 to 2005,” dealing with the period from September 2004 to the end of 2005, when 62 prisoners were released. Read the rest of this entry »

US Injustice Laid Bare, As Afghan in Guantánamo Loses His Habeas Appeal

Ten years after the “War on Terror” began, the distressing misconceptions and exaggerations on which it was founded continue to plague its victims — and also to corrode America’s belief that it is a nation founded on justice and the law.

Ten years ago, Congress launched this “war,” approving the Authorization for Use of Military Force, a sweeping and overbroad piece of legislation which allowed 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 those who harbored them.

The AUMF led to the equation of al-Qaeda (a terrorist group) with the Taliban (the government of Afghanistan), and the fallout from this decision to regard soldiers and terrorists as one and the same, and to hold both as “enemy combatants” without rights, continues to resonate in the corridors of power, and in US courtrooms.

In tackling the predicament of the Guantánamo prisoners — held, initially, without any rights whatsoever — the Supreme Court granted them habeas corpus rights in June 2004, and, after Congress tried to take those rights away (in the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 and the Military Commissions Act of 2006), the Supreme Court was obliged to reassert the prisoners’ habeas rights in June 2008, and to rule that Congress’s interference was unconstitutional. Read the rest of this entry »

RIP Troy Davis: Your Killers Should Be Ashamed

Despite an eleventh hour appeal to the US Supreme Court, Troy Davis, on death row in Georgia for 20 years, was executed last night, by lethal injection, at 11pm, local time. The Supreme Court took four hours to turn down his appeal for clemency, even though rumors had spread that his execution would be stayed, for up to a week, and that Justice Clarence Thomas — not a man generally known for his humanitarianism — was particularly interested in his case.

Troy Davis’s execution was not an isolated incident in the US. 34 death row prisoners had already been executed in America this year, and although the number of executions in the US is declining (from a 30-year high of 98 in 1999), there were still 46 executions last year. In addition, at the start of this year, there were 3,251 prisoners on death row in the US, and when it comes to executions, only three countries have more institutional vengeance than the US — China, Iran and Iraq.

Even so, Troy Davis’s case was particularly noteworthy for two reasons: firstly, because of the breadth of support he received from around the world, with nearly a million people calling for him not to be executed, in petitions that were delivered to Chatham County District Attorney Larry Chisolm (with many more also signing online petitions), and also because of the widespread protests around the world as the date for his execution approached; and secondly, because there were such profound doubts about his guilt. This, again, is no obstacle to execution in the US, but it was made a particular issue by the state of Georgia, as Amnesty International explained eloquently in a blog post on Tuesday. Read the rest of this entry »

UPDATED – WikiLeaks: The Unknown Prisoners of Guantánamo (Part One of Five)

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The update is here.

In May, when I first began analyzing in depth the classified military documents released by WikILeaks at the end of April (a project on which I worked as a media partner), I began with 84 stories that were previously unknown, as all that had been revealed about these prisoners previously were their names and nationalities (PDF), and in some cases, their dates and places of birth.

Securing information about these 84 men, who were all released from Guantánamo between 2002 and 2004, was both exciting and important, as it would, I realized, undoubtedly help to demonstrate how most of them were innocent people seized by mistake, through the Bush administration’s arrogance and hubris, or insignificant Taliban recruits or conscripts, sent to Guantánamo because of Bush’s hugely damaging insistence that, in the “War on Terror,” soldiers (those serving with the Taliban) could be equated with terror suspects (those involved with al-Qaida).

The files on these 84 men did indeed reveal that information, and I presented highlights from the files in “WikiLeaks: The Unknown Prisoners of Guantánamo,” a series of five articles written for Cageprisoners and cross-posted on my website between May 15 and June 15. Since that time, however, as I have moved on to create a 70-part series of articles adding information from the files released by WikiLeaks to the existing information about all the other prisoners, to create The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a million-word project that will, I hope, be complete for the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo on January 11, 2012, I have realized that my coverage of these files was not as detailed as it could have been. Read the rest of this entry »

The Horror of America: Georgia Set to Execute Troy Davis, Despite His Conviction Being Riddled with Doubt

Today (September 20), the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied clemency to Troy Davis. He is scheduled to die by lethal injection tomorrow (Wednesday, September 21, 2011) at 7 pm EST. To take action for Troy Davis, please visit this Amnesty International page and send urgent emails to the Pardons Board and the District Attorney.

Troy Davis was convicted of murdering a Georgia police officer in 1991, based upon the testimony of nine witnesses, seven of whom have recanted their testimony entirely, and has been on death row since his conviction. Three previous attempts to execute him were stayed at the last minute.

As Amnesty International explained today:

The case against him consisted entirely of witness testimony which contained inconsistencies even at the time of the trial. Since then, all but two of the state’s non-police witnesses from the trial have recanted or contradicted their testimony.

Many of these witnesses have stated in sworn affidavits that they were pressured or coerced by police into testifying or signing statements against Troy Davis.

One of the two witnesses who has not recanted his testimony is Sylvester “Red” Coles — the principle alternative suspect, according to the defense, against whom there is new evidence implicating him as the gunman. Nine individuals have signed affidavits implicating Sylvester Coles. Read the rest of this entry »

The Black Hole of Guantánamo: The Sad Story of Ravil Mingazov

Regular readers will know that the Guantánamo prisoners’ habeas corpus petitions led to the release of 26 prisoners between December 2008 and January 2011, providing confirmation that the US courts were able to address mistakes made by the Bush administration in rounding up “detainees” in its “War on Terror,” to expose those mistakes, and even to provide a remedy for them by securing the release of prisoners who should never have been held.

Last year, however, the D.C. Circuit Court — dominated by right-wingers, including Senior Judge A. Raymond Randolph, notorious for supporting every piece of Guantánamo-related legislation that was later overturned by the Supreme Court — began to fight back, pushing the lower courts to accept that very little in the way of evidence was required to justify detentions.

I have long railed against the inability of the executive, lawmakers or the judiciary to address the built-in problems of detention policies in the “War on Terror” — the Bush administration’s dreadful decision to equate the Taliban with al-Qaeda, thereby ensuring that both soldiers and terror suspects were held as interchangeable “detainees” at Guantánamo, and continue to be held as such.

This remains a huge problem, almost entirely ignored by the mainstream media in the US, although it is matched by the media’s lack of interest in what has happened since the D.C. Circuit Court began to dictate detainee policy, even though that has led to success for the government on every appeal, with the Circuit Court reversing or vacating the lower courts’ rulings in six habeas petitions, and has also led to the last eight habeas petitions (since July last year) being refused (see here, here, here, here and here for the evidence). Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

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