Ten years ago, foreign prisoners, seized in other countries, began to arrive in the US prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan. Some were held in a secretive part of the prison, and had often passed through other secret facilities in Afghanistan or elsewhere. The majority of these prisoners ended up in Guantánamo, but some were stealthily repatriated at various times. Others, however, continued to be held, beyond the rule of law.
The prison never conformed to the Geneva Conventions, which were, essentially, discarded when the Bush administration decided to hold prisoners in its “war on terror” as “illegal enemy combatants,” and have never been reinstated. Moreover, the prisoners remained beyond the law even when the Supreme Court granted habeas corpus rights to the Guantánamo prisoners in June 2004, and again in June 2008, after Congress had tried to remove these rights in the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 and the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (PDF).
In March 2009, in Washington D.C., District Judge John D. Bates briefly brought this era of secrecy and unaccountability to an end, granting the habeas corpus petitions of three foreign prisoners — Redha al-Najar, a Tunisian seized in Karachi, Pakistan in May 2002; Amin al-Bakri, a Yemeni gemstone dealer seized in Bangkok, Thailand in late 2002; and Fadi al-Maqaleh, a Yemeni seized in 2004. Read the rest of this entry »
Since March 2006, I have been researching and writing about Guantánamo and the 779 men (and boys) held there, first through my book The Guantánamo Files, and, since May 2007, as a full-time independent investigative journalist. For three years, I focused on the crimes of the Bush administration and, since January 2009, I have analyzed the failures of the Obama administration to thoroughly repudiate those crimes and to hold anyone accountable for them, and, increasingly, on President Obama’s failure to charge or release prisoners, and to show any sign that Guantánamo will eventually be closed.
As recent events marking the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo have shown, this remains an intolerable situation, as Guantánamo is as much of an aberration, and a stain on America’s belief in itself as a nation ruled by laws, as it was when it was opened by George W. Bush on January 11, 2002. Closing the prison remains as important now as it did when I began this work nearly six years ago.
Throughout my work, my intention has been to puncture the Bush administration’s propaganda about Guantánamo holding “the worst of the worst” by telling the prisoners’ stories and bringing them to life as human beings, rather than allowing them to remain as dehumanized scapegoats or bogeymen.
This has involved demonstrating that the majority of the prisoners were either innocent men, seized by the US military’s allies at a time when bounty payments were widespread, or recruits for the Taliban, who had been encouraged by supporters in their homelands to help the Taliban in a long-running inter-Muslim civil war (with the Northern Alliance), which began long before the 9/11 attacks and, for the most part, had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or international terrorism. Read the rest of this entry »
On Monday, marking the third anniversary of President Obama’s failed promise to close the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo within a year, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed what a UN news release described as “deep disappointment” that the Obama administration had failed to close Guantánamo and had, instead, “entrenched a system of arbitrary detention.” She also said she was “disturbed at the failure to ensure accountability for serious human rights violations, including torture,” that took place at Guantánamo.
In her exact words, Navi Pillay said:
It is ten years since the US Government opened the prison at Guantánamo, and now three years since 22 January 2009, when the President ordered its closure within twelve months. Yet the facility continues to exist and individuals remain arbitrarily detained — indefinitely — in clear breach of international law.
I was encouraged by the mention of arbitrary detention, as I have been attempting, for over a year, to ascertain when it would be appropriate to describe the prisoners as being subjected to arbitrary detention, given that they remain held, whether or not they have been cleared for release. 89 of the remaining 171 prisoners were cleared for release at least two years ago by an interagency Task Force established by President Obama, but they remain held, because of hysteria regarding the security situation in Yemen, and because of Congressional obstruction. Now, perhaps, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention will be able to exert pressure on the administration, by requesting a visit to the prison. Read the rest of this entry »
In the long struggle to close Guantánamo, protests took place in Washington D.C. and across America on the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison on January 11, and the newly established “Close Guantánamo” campaign (of which I am a member of the steering committee) launched a petition on the White House’s “We the People” website, calling on President Obama to fulfill his promise to close the prison, which he made when he took office three years ago, and pointing out how fundamentally unjust it is that 89 of the remaining 171 prisoners have been cleared for release, and yet are still held.
That petition needs to secure 25,000 signatures by February 6, to oblige the President to respond, and at the time of writing, over 4,300 people had signed it. Many groups have been asking their supporters to sign it, and yesterday the Center for Constitutional Rights publicly added their voice to the campaign, sending out an email alert to all their supporters, asking them to sign the petition, and also asking visitors to the “Close Guantánamo” page on their website to sign it.
The embedded clock above was also created by CCR, and, in further publicity, three videos featuring speeches made outside the Supreme Court on January 11 — by Andy Worthington, by conscientious objector Daniel Lakemacher, who worked as a guard at Guantánamo, and by CCR’s executive director Vince Warren — have also been made available on CCR’s “Close Guantánamo” page, and are posted below. Read the rest of this entry »
While I was in the US two weeks ago, for the 10th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, there was great deal of understandable outrage amongst activists — both those on the left, and libertarians — because of outrageous provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (PDF), which was passed by the Senate on December 15, and was signed into law by President Obama on December 31.
I discussed these provisions in a number of articles — most recently in an article entitled, “A Tired Obsession with Military Detention Plagues American Politics” — in which I wrote about the shameful provisions requiring the mandatory military custody, without charge or trial, of anyone allegedly associated with al-Qaeda, and also wrote about the provisions preventing the release of prisoners from Guantánamo, which have stopped anyone being released in the last year.
In addressing concerns about the NDAA, I made a point of stressing that, although it is important that criticism should continue to be directed at lawmakers for subverting the entire basis of America’s foundation as a country based on the rule of law with their military detention provisions (for which they should all be hounded out of office), and although it is also of significance that the restrictions on releasing Guantánamo prisoners are based on fearmongering for nakedly political reasons, two other details should not be overlooked. Read the rest of this entry »
To mark the 10th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, both Al-Jazeera and the Guardian turned their attention to the fate of the five Tunisians still held in Guantánamo, who I wrote about almost exactly a year ago, after the unexpected fall of the dictator Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, and the beginning of the revolutionary movements in the Middle East.
At the time, seven Tunisians had left Guantánamo, to face a variety of fates. Two had been repatriated in 2007, although both had then been imprisoned following show trials, two others were in Italy, where they had been delivered from Guantánamo to face trials in November 2009, and three others had been resettled in early 2010 in three other countries — namely, Slovakia, Albania and Georgia.
Soon after the fall of Ben Ali, the interim Tunisian government announced an amnesty for all political prisoners, paving the way for the return of exiled members of the Islamist party Ennahdha, and also the release of 55-year old Abdallah Hajji (also identified as Abdullah bin Amor), the former Guantánamo prisoner who was still imprisoned after a show trial. It also transpired that the other returned and imprisoned ex-Guantánamo prisoner, Lotfi Lagha, had actually been freed under President Ben Ali in June 2010. Read the rest of this entry »
Remind President Obama of his promise. Sign the petition on the White House’s “We the People” website urging him to honor his promise. 25,000 signatures are needed by February 6 to secure a response, so please sign up, and please spread the word.
What happened to President Obama’s bold promise?
Three years ago, on January 22, 2009, President Obama issued an executive order promising to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay within a year, but he did not move swiftly to implement his promise, and Congress then stepped in with onerous restrictions on the release of prisoners or their transfer to the US mainland for any reason, even to be tried or imprisoned. Read the rest of this entry »
In December, I was privileged to work with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights on three reports about Guantánamo that were published to mark the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison on January 11, 2012, and released at a press conference in Washington D.C. that I reported here. The three reports are entitled, “Faces of Guantánamo: Resettlement,” “Faces of Guantánamo: Indefinite Detention,” and “Faces of Guantánamo: Torture” (also available via this page) and they present a comprehensive analysis of Guantánamo’s history, President Obama’s failure to close the prison as he promised, and profiles of 20 of the 171 prisoners still held.
The first report, “Faces of Guantánamo: Resettlement,” focuses on the 89 prisoners still held who were cleared for release by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, but who are still held either because they cannot be safely repatriated, and no country has volunteered to offer them a new home, or because they are Yemenis, and both the President and Congress have acted to prevent the release of any cleared Yemeni prisoners, even though this constitutes guilt by nationality, which is an indefensible generalization, and ought to be regarded as a profound shame.
The article explains in detail President Obama’s failures, including his refusal to allow any innocent prisoners (the Uighurs, Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province) to be settled in the US, and also describes how Congress has intervened to prevent the release of prisoners for nakedly political reasons. Included are recommendations for the Obama administration, and calls for other countries to help with the resettlement of those who cannot be safely repatriated. Read the rest of this entry »
In the final article following my 12-day visit to the US to join protestors calling for the closure of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo on the 10th anniversary of its opening, I’m posting below three videos by filmmaker Ed Haas of the protests in Washington D.C. on the actual anniversary, January 11, 2012, which I wrote about here.
In the first video, Ed asked me about how I became interested in exposing the injustices of Guantánamo and I explained how I became the custodian of the prisoners’ stories, and he also filmed my brief speech to the crowd, as well as the speeches made by the Guantánamo attorney Tom Wilner (my colleague in the newly-launched “Close Guantánamo” campaign), Vince Warren, the executive director of the Center of Constitutional Rights, Stephen Olesky, the attorney for Belkacem Bensayah, an Algerian still held in Guantánamo, and a very powerful speech by Daniel Lakemacher, a former Guantánamo guard and conscientious objector, who was noticeably moved by the presence of other people who care about the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo, and the continuing dehumanization of the men still held there.
In the second video, Ed captured part of the rally outside the White House, and the march to the Supreme Court, via the Justice Department, as well as the speech made outside the Supreme Court by Debra Sweet, the director of The World Can’t Wait, and the facilitator of my visit. The third video features the very moving recitation, by Leili Kashani of the Center for Constitutional Rights, of “Is It True?” written during his detention by a former Guantánamo prisoner, the Jordanian national Usama Abu Kabir, which the crowd echoed using the “call and response” method of transmitting information, which has been a hallmark of the Occupy movement, and was a very powerful experience, which I was delighted to find that Ed had filmed. Read the rest of this entry »
On Tuesday January 24, at 7 pm, there will be a special screening of the acclaimed documentary film “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington) at the European Parliament in Brussels. The screening will take place in the main European Parliament building, the Altiero Spinelli Building, Rue Wiertz, in Room ASP – 3G2, on the 3rd floor, and Moazzam Begg, former Guantánamo prisoner, and the director of the NGO Cageprisoners, will be joining Andy Worthington and Polly Nash for the screening, and for the Q&A session afterwards.
The screening has been arranged by Jean Lambert (UK Green MEP), with the support of Sarah Ludford (UK Liberal Democrat MEP) and Ana Gomes (Portuguese Socialist MEP), and the purpose of the screening is to raise awareness of the continued existence of Guantánamo, and its mockery of universal notions of fairness and justice, ten years after the prison opened, on January 11, 2002. Given President Obama’s very public failure to close the prison as promised, it is essential that other countries step forward to take cleared prisoners who cannot be safely repatriated, and one of the main purposes of the screening and the visit of Moazzam Begg and Andy Worthington is to encourage EU countries to re-engage with the process of resettling prisoners that was so successful in 2009 and 2010.
The screening is free, but anyone who wishes to attend needs to contact Rachel Sheppard, the Parliamentary Assistant to Jean Lambert MEP. If those wishing to attend do not already have an access badge for the European Parliament, they need to provide their full name, date of birth, nationality, passport number or ID card and number and also specify the type of document (passport, ID card) so that access badges can be arranged. Without an access badge, those wishing to attend the screening will not be allowed. Read the rest of this entry »
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