Archive for February, 2012

Please Sign the E-Petition Urging the UK Government to Demand the Return from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer

Please sign the e-petition (British citizens and residents only).

On Tuesday, on the 10th anniversary of the arrival at Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last the British resident in the prison, his family and his lawyers in London launched an e-petition on the government’s website, entitled, “Return Shaker Aamer to the UK,” in which they noted:

Shaker Aamer is a British resident with a British wife and children who has been imprisoned without trial by the US in Bagram Airforce Base and Guantánamo Bay for over ten years. The Foreign Secretary and the Foreign Office must undertake urgent new initiatives to achieve the immediate transfer of Shaker Aamer to the UK from continuing indefinite detention in Guantánamo Bay.

With your help, we can secure the 100,000 signatures needed by May 14 for Shaker’s case to be debated in Parliament, and for the government to explain why he is still held, even though his release has been repeatedly approved by the US government, and repeatedly sought by the UK government: Read the rest of this entry »

10 Years in Guantánamo: British Resident Shaker Aamer, Cleared for Release But Still Held

Originally posted on the “Close Guantánamo” website, and written by Andy Worthington.

Ten years ago, on February 14, 2002, Shaker Aamer, a British resident, and originally one of 16 British prisoners in Guantánamo, arrived in Camp X-Ray, the rudimentary prison in the grounds of the US naval base in Cuba’s easternmost bay, which was used to hold prisoners until the first blocks of a more permanent facility, Camp Delta, opened for business in May 2002. On the same day, his fourth child, a son, was born.

A hugely charismatic figure, Aamer, born in Saudi Arabia in 1968, had moved to London in 1996, and had worked as an Arabic translator for a firm of solicitors working on immigration cases. He met and married a British woman and was granted residency. In June 2001, he took his family to Kabul — as did his friend Moazzam Begg — to volunteer for an Islamic charity. As his British solicitor Gareth Peirce noted in the Guardian on Tuesday, “Their work was teaching the sons and daughters of Arabic-speaking expatriates in the capital,” but after 9/11 and the US-led invasion, “the school was flattened in the first days of the bombing.”

Shaker made sure his pregnant wife and their three young children were safe, but was seized by Afghan bounty hunters, at a time when bounty payments of $5,000 a head were widespread. He was then sold on to other bounty hunters on two occasions, and on the third occasion was bought by Northern Alliance soldiers, who eventually handed him over — or sold him — to US forces. Read the rest of this entry »

“It’s a Disgrace”: Guantánamo Expert Andy Worthington Interviewed for Truthout

Below, I’m pleased to cross-post an interview conducted by phone with the journalist Brad Jacobson during my recent visit to the US to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo on the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Bush administration’s brutal and lawless “war on terror” prison. The interview was conducted while I was in Washington D.C., and afterwards I was pleased to direct Brad to Truthout as a prospective publisher, and delighted that Truthout decided to run with it. It was published on Sunday, and I’ll let it speak for itself, after noting that I have made a few editorial changes, and have inserted some additional links as well.

Brad was a knowledgeable interviewer, and clearly interested in the horrors of America’s post-9/11 journey to the “dark side,” and the surreal situation we now find ourselves in, when a Democratic President, who campaigned largely on a promise to clear up the Bush administration’s mess, and to close Guantánamo, has largely failed to do so, and,perversely, has ended up normalizing much of what, under George W. Bush, had come to be regarded as a national shame.

Guantánamo Ten Years Later: “It’s a Disgrace,” Says Expert Andy Worthington
Interview by Brad Jacobson, Truthout, February 12, 2012

On January 12, the tenth anniversary of the notorious military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Truthout interviewed investigative journalist and Guantánamo expert Andy Worthington. Author of The Guantánamo Files and co-director of the film “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” Worthington has spent the last six years painstakingly working to keep alive in the public consciousness the human faces and personal contexts of the 779 people imprisoned within the facility. Read the rest of this entry »

George W. Bush’s Torture Program Began Ten Years Ago

Last month was the 10th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo, and as this year progresses it is appropriate to remember that there will be other grim 10-year anniversaries to note.

Last week, one of those 10-year anniversaries passed almost unnoticed. On February 7, 2002, as Andrew Cohen noted in the Atlantic, in the only article marking the anniversary:

President George W. Bush signed a brief memorandum [PDF] titled “Humane Treatment of Taliban and al-Qaeda Detainees.” The caption was a cruel irony, an Orwellian bit of business, because what the memo authorized and directed was the formal abandonment of America’s commitment to key provisions of the Geneva Convention. This was the day, a milestone on the road to Abu Ghraib, that marked our descent into torture — the day, many would still say, that we lost part of our soul. Read the rest of this entry »

Who Will Rid Us of This Callous Government, Assaulting the Poor, the Unemployed and the Disabled?

Last month, while I was in the US for 12 days to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo on the 10th anniversary of the prison’s opening, I was actually pleased to be away from the UK, not because I wanted to be away from my family, or my friends, but because I needed a break from the relentless anger that anyone with a heart must feel when confronted by the Tory-led coalition government’s cuts programme, and the British public’s widespread acceptance of it.

I have written about various aspects of the austerity programme over the last 16 months, including the assault on university education, the plans to savage the NHS, and the unprecedented cuts to the welfare state, but it was my anger about these latter two topics — focused on the Health and Social Care Bill (for the stealth privatisation of the NHS) and the Welfare Reform Bill (comprehensively attacking the poor, the unemployed and the disabled) — that I was glad to escape temporarily.

Of course, for those most fundamentally affected — disabled people terrorised by their own government, the tens of thousands of poor families wondering if they will be made homeless by a welfare cap — there is no respite, and I cannot even begin to feel what they must be feeling, but I identify strongly with their plight, as I believe it is fundamentally unforgivable for the government of one of the wealthiest nations on earth — and one whose leaders espouse Christian values — to be targeting the most vulnerable people in society. Read the rest of this entry »

New “Close Guantánamo” Campaign Begins Prisoner Profiles, Features Abdul Razak Qadir, One of Five Innocent Uighurs Still Held

The new “Close Guantánamo” website, an initiative I was involved in launching last month, with a petition on the White House’s “We the People” website, has now entered a new phase — presenting the prisoners’ stories, as told by their attorneys — which is a project that, hopefully, will run throughout the year, and will feed into new campaigns and projects. Please sign up here if you’re interested in adding your voice, and in receiving regular updates.

In the meantime, to help promote the “Close Guantánamo” campaign and the prisoner profiles, I’m cross-posting below the introduction to the prisoner profiles and the first profile, a thorough and detailed account of Abdul Razak Qadir, one of five Uighurs (Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province) who are still held at Guantánamo, written by his attorney Seema Saifee. Please note that many of the links have been added especially for this cross-post.

Telling the Guantánamo Prisoners’ Stories: The 89 Men Cleared for Release
Close Guantánamo, February 8, 2012

When the “Close Guantánamo” website was established a month ago, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, we had two aims — to push for the closure of the prison, particularly by focusing on the injustice of holding 89 prisoners cleared for release, out of 171 prisoners in total; and to dispel the still prevalent myths about the prisoners being “the worst of the worst,” by telling their stories. Read the rest of this entry »

Greek Despair: Will the EU and the Bankers Finally Accept That Austerity is Killing Greece?

“Despair has enveloped Greece. This weekend the bankrupt nation, for that is what it is, began negotiating the latest act of a drama that many fear will end in catastrophe — financially, socially and politically.”

These are the opening words of an article for the Observer by Helena Smith, who has reported from Athens for more than 20 years, and who says the country is “on the edge of a precipice.” On Sunday evening, the Greek parliament accepted a €130bn (£108bn) rescue package from the EU and the International Monetary Fund, to prevent a default, in March, on €14.5bn in maturing debt. However, this also involves a further €3.3bn in wage, pension and job cuts, including axing another 15,000 civil servants’ jobs by the end of the year (and the loss of 150,000 public sector jobs by 2015), and imposing a 22 percent cut in the minimum wage and pension cuts of €300bn, even though Greece is already in a catastrophic state that will not be helped by a further round of savage cuts.

This is because the austerity measures of the last few years have led only to further economic stagnation, and are driving Greece into what I believe it is appropriate to describe as a death spiral. The country is in its fifth successive year of recession, and on Friday a two-day general strike began, and demonstrators took to the streets of Athens, which erupted in fire and violence. Read the rest of this entry »

Save the NHS: The Most Damaging Week Yet for the Tories’ Privatisation Plans

Those of us who have been deeply troubled by the Tory-led government’s Health and Social Care Bill, since it first came under intense scrutiny a year ago, have sought nothing less than for the entire project to be scrapped. A thorough “top-down reorganisation,” despite a promise by David Cameron that he would do no such thing, it was intended from the beginning to break open the NHS, to make room for private predators, with rules regarding enforced competition, and the health secretary’s own intention to remove the entire service from direct government control, that were far too alarming to allow for anything other than total opposition.

Criticised by a majority of health professionals, by the Tories’ Lib Dem partners in the coalition, and by the House of Lords, the bill was paused for a period of reflection last spring, and has been subjected to so many amendments, in an attempt to keep it alive, that it is now an almost inconceivable mutant monstrosity, albeit one that, at its dark heart, still seeks to fatally undermine the NHS.

Despite the relentless criticism, the Tories managed to retain a united front until last week, when cracks began to show, beginning on Tuesday, when, in an explosive article in the Times (hidden beyond the Murdoch paywall), Rachel Sylvester quoted an unnamed official in 10 Downing Street as saying that the health secretary Andrew Lansley “should be taken out and shot” because he’s “messed up both the communication and the substance of the policy.” Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Close Guantánamo: End Ten Years of Injustice — Andy Worthington and Jason Leopold in Discussion in San Francisco

During my ten-day US tour last month to mark the 10th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo, all the events I took part in, and the TV and radio interviews I undertook, were worthwhile, enjoyable, and an opportunity to provide important information and to urge those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo to keep campaigning for its closure.

This is not an easy task, given President Obama’s failures, cynical Congressional opposition, and the obstruction of right-wing judges in the D.C. Circuit Court — and it is compounded by a recent poll showing that a majority of Americans are apparently content for Guantánamo to remain open — but the 10th anniversary provided an opportunity to launch a new campaigning website, “Close Guantánamo” with the attorney Tom Wilner (and supporters can sign up here), and also to hook up with many other friends.

One of these is Jason Leopold, the lead investigative reporter for Truthout, who is a colleague and a friend with whom I spent some time in the fall of 2010, during “Berkeley Says No to Torture” Week, and in the third of the four cities on my recent visit — San Francisco — Jason and I took part in an hour-long conversation, at UC Hastings Law School on January 13, which was one of the most satisfying of all my engagements, as Jason and I work well together, and had enough time to cover all the issues that need discussing, on this baleful anniversary when all three branches of the US government have failed to close Guantánamo, and too few people seem to care. Read the rest of this entry »

An Update on the Plight of Former Guantánamo Prisoner Abdul Aziz Naji, Sentenced to Three Years in Prison in Algeria

Last week, I wrote about the plight of Abdul Aziz Naji, an Algerian, held in Guantánamo for eight years, who had been cleared for release from Guantánamo by the US authorities, but was repatriated against his will in July 2010. Three weeks ago, Naji, who is also an amputee, and in ill health, was sentenced to three years in jail at what can only be described as a show trial. He was convicted for “past membership in an extremist group overseas,” but afterwards the London-based legal action charity Reprieve and the NGO Cageprisoners both complained about the conduct of the trial and its outcome (and Cageprisoners made details available of how concerned readers can contact the Algerian government to request his release).

Now, further details have emerged in an article on Al-Arabiya’s English language site, in which reporter Eman El-Shenawi spoke to Ellen Lubell, one of his US attorneys (along with Doris Tennant), who explained, “In our view, the accusations made against him were baseless and false, and could readily be proved.” Lubell was appalled that, as Al-Arabiya put it, “Before [the] Algerian authorities handed down the guilty verdict, Naji was not permitted to speak at his court case.”

The Al-Arabiya article ran through the story of how Naji arrived in US custody, explaining how, in 2002, he “traveled to Pakistan to work with a charity providing humanitarian assistance to Muslims and Christians in Kashmir,” but after being “advised by acquaintances to visit an Algerian residing in the city of Peshawar to help find a wife, both he and his host were arrested during a raid by the Pakistani police.” 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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