Archive for October, 2011

Pelican Bay and American Torture: Prisoners in Long-Term Isolation Continue Hunger Strike Despite Authorities’ Brutal Response

When it comes to America’s domestic prison system, no one in a position of authority wants to use the word “torture,” but I defy anyone whose heart is not made of stone to argue that total solitary confinement — for years and even decades — with no contact allowed with other human beings, and in cells with no natural light,  is not torture.

In July, prisoners in isolation — in Security Housing Units — in California’s Pelican Bay State Prison started a hunger strike, protesting about the conditions of their confinement, and their treatment by the authorities. The hunger strike soon spread to other prisons in California, with, at one point, 6,600 prisoners on hunger strike, and the Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition issued an informative statement explaining, “Dozens of US-based and international human rights organizations have condemned Security Housing Units as having cruel, inhumane, and torturous conditions. SHU prisoners are kept in windowless, 6 by 10 foot cells, 23½ hours a day, for years at a time.”

As an insight into the scale of the problem, the hunger strikers have stated that “513 of the 1,111 prisoners held at Pelican Bay have been in solitary confinement for 10 or more years, and 78 have been held for more than 20 years without access to light or open space for prolonged periods of time.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Complete Guantánamo Files: WikiLeaks and the Prisoners Released in 2006 (Part Six 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 26 of the 70-part series. 326 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 »

Abu Zubaydah and the Silencing of Guantánamo’s “High-Value Detainees,” as the CIA Censors His Drawings

Over the last few years, my colleague Jason Leopold at Truthout has been doggedly pursuing a number of important stories about the Bush administration’s torture program, and the lack of accountability for those who authorized or implemented aspects of the program. Working sometimes with the psychologist and blogger Jeff Kaye, Leopold has investigated human experimentation at Guantánamo, and has also worked tirelessly to shine a light on the story of the alleged “high-value detainee” Abu Zubaydah.

As Jason and I have spoken about repeatedly, the story of Abu Zubaydah is one of the most crucial in the “War on Terror.” Zubaydah was seized in Pakistan in March 2002, and flown to a secret prison in Thailand, where he was the first victim of the Bush administration’s “high-value detainee” torture program. Subsequently held in other locations, including Poland, he was finally sent to Guantánamo in September 2006, along with 13 other “high-value detainees,” including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.

In the five years since the transfer of the “high-value detainees,” almost every attempt to officially pierce the veil of secrecy surrounding these 14 men — and two others transferred to Guantánamo in 2007 and 2008 — has been resisted, first by the Bush administration, and, since January 2009, by President Obama. Read the rest of this entry »

NHS Privatisation: Protest on Sunday, as 400 Doctors Accuse Government of Planning “Irreparable Harm,” and Lords Prepare Opposition

Tomorrow, Sunday October 9, UK Uncut, the British activists opposed to the Tory-led government’s ideologically driven austerity cuts, have organised a mass protest in London — “Block the Bridge, Block the Bill” — against the government’s plans to privatise the National Health Service (NHS), which I have been writing about extensively over the last year (see here, here, here, here and here), and my experiences of the NHS this year, after I became ill, can be found here.

UK Uncut’s activities, involving street theatre, the creative occupation of banks and tax-avoiding retail outlets, and its simple, focused message — tax the banks, stop corporate tax evasion — has been an inspiration over the last year, not only reviving a rich seam of creative dissent in the UK, but also, evidently, helping to provide inspiration for movement elsewhere — and specifically the “Occupy Wall Street” movement that has seized the imagination of Americans across the country, inspiring hundreds of similar occupations.

UK Uncut’s “Block the Bridge, Block the Bill” action will involve thousands of people occupying Westminster Bridge — dressing up as doctors, nurses and patients, playing dead, performing fake operations — to send a message of collective defiance to Parliament, where the House of Lords will begin debating the government’s Health and Social Care Bill on October 11. Read the rest of this entry »

Protestors in Washington D.C. Call for an End to the Afghan War on its 10th Anniversary, and the Transformation of American Politics

Stop the Machine! Create a New World!” and “Human Needs, Not Corporate Greed!” are the rallying cries of a movement, October2011.org, that launched on June 6 this year, calling for the occupation, on October 6 (yesterday), of Freedom Plaza in Washington D.C. on an open-ended basis. The movement is calling for nothing less than the total transformation of American politics, but the immediate focus today is on the war in Afghanistan, which began exactly ten years ago.

Bringing the war to an end ought to be a priority for the American people on a number of fronts.

Firstly, the war is unwinnable. Ousting al-Qaeda from Afghanistan may have been a success, but the battle for hearts and minds was lost early on, through bombing raids that killed thousands of civilians, and the casual and imprecise violence that led to the imprisonment and abuse of hundreds of Afghan Taliban conscripts in Guantánamo and Bagram. To topple the Taliban, the US worked with brutal warlords, whose corruption, in many cases, had prompted the rise of the Taliban in the first place, and although the Taliban were ousted from power, the pointless diversion into Iraq was ruinous for the muddled and ill-conceived nation-building mission in Afghanistan.

Secondly, the cost is astronomical. According to the Cost of War project, the total cost to date is over $460 billion — and a useful breakdown of that figure, including some mention of what it could have been used to fund instead, is available here. Read the rest of this entry »

“Ten Hours for Ten Years”: Demonstration for Shaker Aamer, the Last British Prisoner in Guantánamo, as Part of Protest Against the Afghan War in London on Saturday

On Saturday October 8, 2011, to mark the 10th anniversary of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, the Stop the War Coalition is holding a Mass Assembly in Trafalgar Square, from 12 noon to 4 pm, to call for an end to the war, which continues to haemorrhage lives and money at an alarming rate, despite the arrogance and futility of trying to save Afghanistan from its own people, fuelled by the obvious lies of politicians, who insist on claiming — in defiance of all logic — that the presence of British soldiers is keeping al-Qaeda off the streets of Britain, when what the “insurgents” actually want is for us to get out of their country.

With the latest UK poll showing 71 percent of respondents agreeing that the war in “unwinnable,” and 57 percent calling for the immediate withdrawal of British troops, the Coalition is noticeably in tune with a majority of the British public, and has secured significant support from opponents of the war for the following statement of intent for Saturday’s protest:

I pledge that if British Troops are still in Afghanistan on the tenth anniversary of the invasion I will join the mass assembly in Trafalgar Square on Saturday 8 October to make it clear to the government that they must not continue this brutal and pointless war in defiance of the will of the people. Read the rest of this entry »

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

Please support my work!

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 25 of the 70-part series. 315 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 »

Death from Afar: The Unaccountable Killing of Anwar Al-Awlaki

What a strange and alarming place we’re in, when the US government, under a Democratic President, kills two US citizens it dislikes for their thoughts and their words, without formally charging them with any crime, or trying or convicting them, using an unmanned drone directed by US personnel many thousands of miles away.

And yet, that is what happened on Friday, when Anwar Al-Awlaki (aka al-Awlaqi, or Aulaqi) and Samir Khan, both US citizens, were killed in a drone strike in Yemen, along with several companions. Al-Awlaki, an imam who had left the US in 2002, had aroused the US government’s wrath because his anti-American sermons were in English, and readily available online, and because he openly advocated violence against the United States.

It has also been widely reported that he apparently met three of the 9/11 hijackers, that he had been in email contact with Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the sole suspect in the killing of 13 military personnel at Fort Hood, in Texas, in November 2009, who he later reportedly described as a “hero,” and that he was allegedly involved in planning the failed plane bombing on a flight into Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, for which a Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was arrested. Read the rest of this entry »

It Could Be You: The Sad Story of Jose Padilla, Tortured and Denied Justice

For nine and a half years — almost as long as the “war on terror” has been providing an excuse for paranoia about Muslims in general — the case of US citizen Jose Padilla has demonstrated, to those willing to pay attention, that something has gone horribly wrong in the United States of America.

A former gang member and a convert to Islam, Padilla was arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, in connection with an alleged “dirty bomb plot” that never existed, on May 8, 2002, as he returned from Pakistan. Held for a month as a material witness, he was then designated an “enemy combatant” by President George W. Bush, and held in complete isolation in a military brig for the next three and half years — a process that also involved prolonged sensory deprivation. According to the psychiatrist Dr. Angela Hegarty, who spent 22 hours with Padilla in 2006, “What happened at the brig was essentially the destruction of a human being’s mind.”

In November 2005, fearing that Padilla might successfully challenge the government’s argument that it had the right to hold a US citizen indefinitely without charge or trial on the US mainland, and subject him to torture, the Bush administration suddenly indicted Padilla on charges of conspiracy “to murder, kidnap and maim people overseas,” and transferred him out of the brig. However, the injustice did not come to an end, as the courts then took over. Read the rest of this entry »

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

Please support my work!

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 24 of the 70-part series. 304 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 »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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