Archive for November, 2011

It Costs $72 Million A Year to Hold Cleared Prisoners at Guantánamo

Last week, the exorbitant expense of maintaining the Bush administration’s “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo was revealed in the Miami Herald, where Carol Rosenberg explained that Congress provided $139 million to operate the prison last year, which, with 171 prisoners still held, works out at $812,865 per prisoner, nearly 30 times as much as it costs to keep a prisoner in a Federal Bureau of Prisons facility, where the cost per prisoner is $28,284 a year.

In a detailed explanation of the “expensive” and “inefficient” system at Guantánamo, retired Army Brig. Gen. Greg Zanetti, who was the prison’s deputy commander in 2008, said, “It’s a slow-motion Berlin Airlift — that’s been going on for 10 years.” While stationed at Guantánamo, the Herald noted, “he wrote a secret study that compared the operation to Alcatraz, noting that Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy had closed it in 1963 because it was too expensive.”

Zanetti, who is now a Seattle-based money manager, pointed out that everything “from paper clips to bulldozers” has to be flown in, or brought in by boat, and argued that the cost of running the prison “deserves a cost-benefit analysis.” He told Carol Rosenberg, “What complicates the overall command further is you have the lawyers, interrogators and guards all operating under separate budgets and command structures. It’s like combining the corporate cultures and budgets of Goldman, Apple and Coke. Business schools would have a field day dissecting the structure of Guantánamo.” Read the rest of this entry »

Celebrating Occupy Wall Street, and the November 17 Day of Action

Last night, defiantly responding to Tuesday’s eviction of the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park by New York’s billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, tens of thousands of protestors took to the streets of New York and filled Brooklyn Bridge, chanting, “Bloomberg, beware: Zuccotti Park is everywhere.”

As Occupy Wall Street noted on its website, the NYPD estimated that, at the culmination of the #N17 day of action, there were 32,500 people, and that thousands more “mobilised in at least 30 cities across the United States,” and demonstrations were also held in other cities around the world.

Beka Economopoulos, who was involved in the Zuccotti Park occupation, said, “Our political system should serve all of us — not just the very rich and powerful. Right now Wall Street owns Washington. We are the 99% and we are here to reclaim our democracy.”

As Occupy Wall Street explained, “New York led the charge in this energizing day for the emerging movement,” and, following the eviction, “the slogan ‘You can’t evict an idea whose time has come’ became the new meme of the 99% movement overnight.” Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t Forget the Guantánamo Prisoners Cleared for Release But Still Held

Last week, Guantánamo briefly resurfaced in the news when one of the remaining 171 prisoners, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was arraigned for his planned trial by Military Commission, for his alleged role in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000.

Al-Nashiri’s trial will not begin for a least a year, and his fleeting appearance was not sufficient to keep attention focused on Guantánamo, especially as the 24-hour news cycle — and people’s addiction to it — now barely allows stories to survive for a day before they are swept aside for the latest breaking news.

As a result, the opportunity to ask bigger questions, such as, “Who is still at Guantánamo?” and “Why are they still held?” was largely missed. These are topics I have been discussing all year, but they are rarely mentioned in the mainstream media, so it was refreshing, last week, to see Peter Finn in the Washington Post address these questions.

In “Guantánamo detainees cleared for release but left in limbo,” Finn, with assistance from Julie Tate, began by revisiting the final report of the Guantánamo Review Task Force, the 60 or so officials and lawyers from government departments and the intelligence agencies who reviewed the cases of all the prisoners throughout 2009, and who, as Finn noted, cleared 126 prisoners for transfer out of Guantánamo (PDF) — and also recommended 36 for trials, and 48 for indefinite detention without charge or trial. Read the rest of this entry »

Where now for Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy Movement?

When Occupy Wall Street began in September, its great innovative strength — and what enabled it to be picked up on and repeated across America, and around the world — was that it broke with the tired old model of one-day protests, with their limited opportunities for creating bonds and exchanging ideas, and, as I saw it, specifically involved young people, who were educated, but in debt and unemployed, refusing to be the atomized collateral damage of a capitalist system that is discarding more and more of its own people, taking to the streets and public spaces (or “private” spaces that can be claimed by the public), and refusing to go home.

With yesterday’s eviction of Zuccotti Park, in New York, and the ban on protestors camping there in future, part of the “Occupy” movement — the geographical part that involved physically occupying a location — may have been broken, but the impulse that drove large numbers of people, let down by society, to refuse to stay at home and self-medicate in silence and isolation, was not.

Moreover, the boot of authority — wielded, appropriately, by New York’s billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg — that crushed the encampment in Zuccotti Park, may, we hear, have also been the spearhead of a national campaign to rid America of its myriad other untidy occupations, with Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, explaining, in an interview with the BBC shortly before a wave of raids broke up “Occupy” encampments across the country, “I was recently on a conference call with 18 cities across the country who had the same situation,” and an anonymous Justice Department official apparently also explaining that “each of those actions was coordinated with help from Homeland Security, the FBI and other federal police agencies.” Read the rest of this entry »

Expressing Solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, as Court Prevents Violently Evicted Protestors from Re-Establishing Camp

So the billionaire bully and coward Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York, waited until the middle of the night to spring a surprise eviction on the occupants of Zuccotti Park, the home, for the last two months, of the Occupy Wall Street movement that has spread across the US and around the world (see here for my archive of articles).

Shortly after 1 am, police began clearing the park, and the disdain for the occupiers and their possessions was palpable. Despite promising that residents would be able to retrieve their possessions from the city sanitation department, everything was destroyed. People’s possessions — and the entire 5,000-book OWS library — were all tossed in the back of garbage trucks. In addition, journalists were prevented from having access to the park, and some were attacked by the police, which was a troubling development.

It was, no doubt, not coincidental that the eviction came just two days before a planned day of action to mark two months since Occupy Wall Street was established, but it is difficult to see how such a dark and underhand move by the Mayor was supposed to crush the spirit of the Occupy Wall Street protestors. In a statement, the Mayor said that he had “become increasingly concerned — as had the park’s owner, Brookfield Properties — that the occupation was coming to pose a health and fire safety hazard to the protestors and to the surrounding community.” He also said that yesterday, as the New York Times described it, “Brookfield asked the city to assist in enforcing ‘the no sleeping and camping rules,’” but he added, “Make no mistake. The final decision to act was mine and mine alone.” Read the rest of this entry »

New Perspectives on the Euro Crisis, and the Need for Greece to Default

Delighted though I am to see the back of Silvio Berlusconi, no one should be reassured that his replacement, the unelected technocrat and former EU commissioner Mario Monti — or another unelected technocrat, Lucas Papademos, a former vice-president of the European Central Bank., who has taken over in Greece from former Prime Minister George Papandreou — are in a position to provide a solution to the financial crisis sweeping Europe.

Even before the unelected technocrats were parachuted in, those intent on addressing the crisis through austerity cuts of unprecedented savagery had a crisis of authority, having failed to consult with the electorates of the countries involved, and imposing unelected leaders is a truly alarming development.

For those seeking to understand why, it is clear that the fault lies primarily with the entire Euro project, and not with individual countries, but understanding that involves certain Northern European countries putting aside their dreadful knee-jerk racism regarding their southern neighbours’ purported laziness and corruption, and understanding that the Euro is and was an inherently flawed project, biased in favour of the richer countries, and essentially presided over by a handful of unaccountable officials.

As the Guardian noted in an article last week, “the latest phase of Europe’s sovereign debt crisis has exposed the quite flagrant contempt for voters, the people who are going to bear the full weight of the austerity programmes being cooked up” by “the Frankfurt Group, an unelected cabal made of up eight people: [Christine] Lagarde, [the head of the IMF]; [Angela] Merkel; [Nicolas] Sarkozy; Mario Draghi, the new president of the ECB [European Central Bank]; José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission; Jean-Claude Juncker, chairman of the Eurogroup; Herman van Rompuy, the president of the European Council; and Olli Rehn, Europe’s economic and monetary affairs commissioner.” Read the rest of this entry »

Tories Ordered to Stop Hiding Their Damaging Risk Assessment for NHS Reform; Ask Your MP to Help

After a year of hiding a risk assessment regarding its plans to transform the NHS (into an increasingly privatised monstrosity, with the government no longer in charge of it), health secretary Andrew Lansley has been ordered by the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, to release a document that outlines the risks associated with his widely-criticised Health and Social Care Bill.

As the website Practice Business explained, “The Information Commissioning Office (ICO) found that the Department of Health had twice breached the Freedom of Information Act in not disclosing the document and the strategic risk factor associated with the NHS reforms contained therein.”

Upholding separate complaints by John Healey, who was the shadow health secretary until last month) and the Evening Standard, after the Department of Health rejected two separate requests under the Freedom of Information Act to see its assessment of the risks, Christopher Graham stated, as Practice Business described it, that the “public interest was more important than minister’s insistence that revealing the information would hinder the formulation of government policy.” As he explained, “Disclosure would significantly aid public understanding of risks related to the proposed reforms and it would also inform participation in the debate about the reforms.”

Describing the victory, the Evening Standard noted that the document was “expected to reveal the risks to patient safety, finances and the very workings of the NHS from the unprecedented reshaping of the health service,” and also, crucially, pointed out that, when the Standard “put in its FOI request in February with debate raging over the NHS changes,” Mr. Lansley’s officials argued that releasing the risk register would have “jeopardised the success of the policy.” (emphasis added) Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington Discusses the Guantánamo Torture Trial with Scott Horton on Antiwar Radio

Last week, just after the arraignment at Guantánamo of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, which I discussed in my article, Trial at Guantánamo: What Shall We Do With The Torture Victim?, I was delighted to speak about al-Nashiri’s case — and about the dispiriting history of the Military Commissions at Guantánamo — with Scott Horton of Antiwar Radio. The show is available here, and at the start of the interview, Scott asked me to explain how it is that the prison is still open, despite President Obama promising to close it within a year of taking office.

For the 171 men held, as I explained, the situation is bleak as we approach the 10th anniversary of the prison’s opening (in January 2012), as there now appears to be no way that any of them will ever leave the prison, given the indifference of the administration to their fate, and the hostility of lawmakers and certain crucial right-wing judges (who have been deciding detention policy in the D.C. Circuit Court). I also spoke about the current horror of the National Defense Authorization Act, which is being discussed in Congress, and which contains a vile proposal from lawmakers, insisting that, in future, all terror suspects be held in mandatory military custody, and not held as criminal suspects or given federal court trials.

As mentioned above, Scott and I also discussed the history of the Military Commissions and the six men who have been convicted or have accepted plea deals (David Hicks, Salim Hamdan, Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, Ibrahim al-Qosi, Omar Khadr and Noor Uthman Muhammed), and this provided me with an opportunity to mention that Omar Khadr is still being held, even though he was supposed to return to Canada two weeks ago, according to the the terms of his plea deal. Read the rest of this entry »

Trial at Guantánamo: What Shall We Do With The Torture Victim?

At Guantánamo on Wednesday, one of the most notorious torture victims of the Bush administration — Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri — was arraigned for his trial by Military Commission, charged with masterminding the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, off the coast of Yemen, which killed 17 US sailors and wounded 39 others. Al-Nashiri is also one of three “high-value detainees” who, under the Bush administration, was subjected to waterboarding, an ancient form of torture that involves controlled drowning.

Appearing publicly for the first time in nine years, al-Nashiri, a millionaire and a merchant before his capture, who is now 46 years old, was clean-shaven, and responded politely when asked by the judge, Army Col. James Pohl, whether he understood the proceedings, and whether “he accepted the services of his Pentagon-paid defense team.” As the Miami Herald described it, he replied, “At this moment these lawyers are doing the right job.”

For those who support George W. Bush’s attempts to twist the law out of shape in an attempt to claim that torture was not torture, and then to use it on “high-value detainees” in a series of despicable torture dungeons located in other countries, the trial of al-Nashiri at Guantánamo is something of a triumph, although it is difficult to see how the torture apologists reach this conclusion. Read the rest of this entry »

As Tories Approve Private Takeover of Hospital, Lords Challenge Plans to Let NHS Be Run By An Unaccountable Quango

As David Cameron continues to cling to his health secretary Andrew Lansley’s widely criticised healthcare reforms, which are generally — and accurately — regarded by defenders of our universal healthcare service as an attempt to destroy the NHS through enforced privatisation, the New Statesman has weighed with an editorial calling on the Prime Minister to scrap the bill. Styled as a letter to David Cameron, the editorial criticises him for imposing £20 billion in cuts while “implement[ing] the biggest organisational change” in the history of the NHS, “a reform that rips up established structures for managing resources and fundamentally changes the service’s founding ethos.”

The editorial states, “You must realise that this is a huge error,” but there is no evidence that this is the case, as Cameron’s entire drive is towards privatisation, and savagely cutting the state, and he has demonstrated, time and again, that, despite claiming to care about the health service, he was lying disgracefully when he promised no “top-down reorganisations” of the NHS, and also promised that the NHS budget would rise every year.

The editorial also notes that, although Lansley’s Health and Social Care Bill “was originally styled as a liberalising reform,” and there is “a case for reforming NHS commissioning, with more GP involvement, and for slimming down PCTs [Primary Care Trusts],” all of this reform “could have been done without legislation.” The editors add, pointedly, “The real purpose of this reform is to transform the NHS from a system where care is mostly provided by the state to one where it is largely provided by private companies,” and, in words addressed specifically to David Cameron, state, “You say that this is not the ‘privatisation’ of the health service. There is no better word” — to which I would only add that there is, in fact, no other word for what is planned, and what, to an alarming degree, is already taking place. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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