Archive for March, 2012

Close Guantánamo: Abdul Ghani, An Insignificant Afghan Villager Held for Nine Years

As published on the “Close Guantánamo” website. Please join us — just an email address required.

As we at “Close Guantánamo” continue our series profiling prisoners still held at Guantánamo — and specifically, at this time, the Afghans who are still held — our latest profile is of Abdul Ghani, an unfortunate villager from Kandahar province, who farmed pomegranates and scavenged for scrap metal, and was seized in November 2002 and arrived in Guantánamo nine years ago.

Alarmingly, Abdul Ghani was one of a number of insignificant Afghan prisoners put forward for a trial by military commission under President Bush in 2008. The authorities claimed that he had played a part in attacks and planned attacks as part of the insurgency against US forces, although Ghani himself, and his lawyers, have consistently disputed his purported involvement.

It should, however, be noted that, even if Abdul Ghani had been involved in the activities of which he is accused, it is extraordinary that, over nine years later, he remains in Guantánamo, a prison cynically described as holding “the worst of the worst” terrorists by the Bush administration, when, if he had been held in Afghanistan instead of being flown to Guantánamo, he would have been released many years ago. Read the rest of this entry »

Ten Years of Torture: On Anniversary of Abu Zubaydah’s Capture, Poland Charges Former Spy Chief Over “Black Site”

Ten years ago, on the evening of March 28, 2002, the Bush administration officially embarked on its “high-value detainee” program in the “war on terror” that had been declared in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, when Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn (more commonly identified as Abu Zubaydah), was captured in a house raid in Faisalabad, Pakistan.

For the next four and half years, Abu Zubaydah, described on his capture as a senior al-Qaeda operative, was held in secret prisons run by the CIA, until, with 13 other “high-value detainees,” he was moved to Guantánamo, in September 2006, where he remains to this day.

After his capture, Abu Zubaydah was taken to a secret prison in Thailand, and it was there, in August 2002, that he was subjected to an array of torture techniques, including waterboarding (an ancient form of torture, which involves controlled drowning). The torture allegedly only began after John Yoo, a lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which is supposed to provide impartial advice to the executive branch, wrote two memos (the “torture memos,” signed by his boss, Jay S. Bybee), which purported to redefine torture, and authorized the CIA to use ten techniques — including waterboarding — on Zubaydah. He was subsequently waterboarded 83 times. Read the rest of this entry »

Rallies Worldwide to Mark the 9th Anniversary of the Disappearance of Aafia Siddiqui

On Saturday, outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, London, I will be speaking at an event marking the ninth anniversary of the disappearance in Pakistan of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, who vanished for five years and five months, and then mysteriously reappeared in Afghanistan in August 2008, where she was arrested, and then allegedly tried to shoot at the US soldiers who were holding her.

She was subsequently flown to New York, where, in September 2010, after a trial at which she did not appear to be well, although her mental health was not considered to be an issue worthy of scrutiny, she was sentenced to 86 years in prison, which she is serving in a notorious psychiatric prison, FMC Carswell, in Texas. Please click on the image to enlarge the poster.

The rally outside the US Embassy, organized by the Justice for Aafia Coalition, takes place from 3 pm to 6 pm, and the speakers, and the timing of speeches, are as follows:

1500: Introduction
1510: Sultan Sabri (Croydon Muslim Association)
1520: Raza Karim (IHRC – Islamic Human Rights Commission)
1530: Andy Worthington (journalist, author of The Guantánamo Files)
1540: Asif Hussain (FOSIS – Federation of Student Islamic Societies)
1550: Raza Nadim (MPACUK – Muslim Public Affairs Committee)
1600: Sheikh Suliman Ghani (Imam, Tooting Islamic Centre)
1610: Anas Altikriti (Cordoba Foundation)
1620: Ken O’Keefe (anti-war activist)
1630: Statement of Support from the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers
1635: Joy Hurcombe (Save Shaker Aamer Campaign) reads out Statement of Support from Walter Wolfgang
1645: Omar Deghayes (former Guantánamo prisoner)
1655: Adnan Rashid (Hittin Institute)
1705: Sultanah Parvin
1715: Uthman Lateef (Hittin Institute)
1725: Conclusion

Read the rest of this entry »

Omar Khadr to Return to Canada from Guantánamo by End of May

Finally, five months after the Canadian citizen and former child prisoner Omar Khadr was supposed to leave Guantánamo, to be returned to Canada as a result of a plea deal agreed in October 2010, it appears that he may be back in the country of his birth by the end of May.

The delay has been a disgrace, as the plea deal was supposed to guarantee that Khadr, who is now 25, would be held for one more year at Guantánamo, and would then return to Canada, to serve seven more years in prison, although it is widely expected that he “will serve only a short time in a Canadian prison before being released,” as London Free Press described it, primarily because lawyers will be able to point out the court rulings in which judges ruled that the Canadian government had persistently violated Khadr’s rights.

That first year of Khadr’s post-plea deal detention ended on October 31 last year, but he was not repatriated from Guantánamo, primarily, it seemed, because of an unwillingness to speedily facilitate his return on the part of the Canadian authorities, who have a dreadful record when it comes to doing anything to secure his return since his capture at the age of 15, when he was severely wounded, in Afghanistan in July 2002. Read the rest of this entry »

News from Albania: One Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Becomes A Father, While Another Is Not Allowed to Return Home

In the last week, two Guantánamo stories have emerged from Albania, home to ten former Guantánamo prisoners — all prisoners who could not be safely repatriated after being cleared for release from Guantánamo. Four men are Uighurs (Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province) released in May 2006, three others — an Algerian, an Egyptian and a Russian — were freed in December 2006, and three others — a Libyan, a Tunisian and another Egyptian — were released in February 2010.

One of the stories, cross-posted below, concerns Abu Bakker Qassim, one of the Uighurs, who recently became a father, and was interviewed by Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star on a recent visit. The other concerns Sherif El-Meshad, the Egyptian released in February 2010.

On March 23, the website Balkan Insight explained that El-Meshad (described as Sherif Almeshad), who is 35 years old, is being prevented from returning to Egypt by the Albanian government, even though “the post-Mubarak government in Egypt says he is welcome to come back.” Representatives of the legal action charity Reprieve, whose lawyers represent El-Meshad, told Balkan Insight that the “Albanian authorities have repeatedly denied El-Meshad’s requests to return home although the new government in Cairo has provided written assurances that he will be welcome in Egypt and faces no risks there.” In addition, the Albanian border police have twice prevented El-Meshad’s Albanian wife from traveling to Egypt, even though she has a valid Egyptian visa. Read the rest of this entry »

Life after Guantánamo Bay: Jenifer Fenton Talks to Kuwaiti Ex-Prisoners for Al-Jazeera

Last month, I was invited to visit Kuwait to try and help raise awareness of the need for the Kuwaiti people to push for their government to demand the release from Guantánamo of the last two Kuwaitis — out of 12 in total — to be held in Guantánamo. These two men are Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah, and, like dozens of the 171 men still at Guantánamo, they are held, possibly with the intention that they will be held for the rest of their lives, not because there is any evidence that either of them ever raised arms against US forces or were involved in any way with any acts of international terrorism, but because of institutional cowardice within the Obama administration, and because of fearmongering in Congress, in the mainstream media and in a particular court of appeals in Washington D.C.

That court is the D.C. Circuit Court, where a number of prominent judges have whittled away at the habeas corpus rights that the Supreme Court granted the Guantánamo prisoners in June 2008 (and which led to the release of 26 prisoners between December 2008 and January 2011), gutting habeas corpus of all meaning for the Guantánamo prisoners, by demanding that the government’s supposed evidence be given the presumption of accuracy, even though it has been well established (in the 38 cases won by the prisoners, for example), that the supposed evidence is an unreliable mix of statements and confessions made by the prisoners themselves, or by their fellow prisoners, in circumstances where torture, coercion and even bribery were widely used by the interrogators, and of post-capture reports, compiled by US personnel in situations whereby the prisoners were actually seized by Afghan or Pakistani forces, at a time when generous bounty payments were being offered for anyone who could be dressed up as an al-Qaeda or Taliban suspect.

I wrote about my visit to Kuwait here and here, and posted videos of the Kuwaiti TV show that I took part in with Tom Wilner, my colleague in the new “Close Guantánamo” campaign and the US civilian lawyer for the two Kuwaitis, and I have since followed up with profiles of the two men on the “Close Guantánamo” website (written by Tom, his colleague Neil Koslowe and myself). My visit was organized by Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, the military defense attorney for Fayiz, who was put forward for a trial by military commission in November 2008, just before George W. Bush left office, and who, absurdly, remains a candidate for a trial by military commission, even though nothing that could objectively be called evidence exists in his case. I also met other members of Lt. Col. Wingard’s team, Adel AbdulHadi and Sanabil Jafar of the Al-Oula Law Firm, which represents Fayiz in Kuwait, Khalid al-Odah, the father of Fawzi al-Odah, and the head of the long-established Kuwaiti Freedom Project, and the former prisoner Fouad al-Rabiah, with whom I had lunch. Read the rest of this entry »

Early Version of NHS Risk Register Leaked: Warns of Increased Cost of Privatisation, Worries About Fragmented Service

Today, a leaked copy of the first draft of a risk register (PDF) assessing the damage that could follow the Tory-led coalition government’s reckless plans to reform the NHS (which involve devolving 60% of the NHS’s £100bn budget to new GP-led consortia, and introducing more competition into the NHS), was published by the Guardian.

As the axe fell on the NHS last week, with the passage of Andrew Lansley’s wretched NHS reform bill, last minute calls for delays until the risks could be assessed were ignored by the Tories and the Liberal Democrats, even though a freedom of information tribunal had twice ordered Lansley to release the Transition Risk Register, in which civil servants advised ministers about what could go wrong with their plans. Traditionally, risk registers are for internal use only, as they provide “worst case scenarios” that could lead to scaremongering if made public, but there has been such uproar over the NHS plans, which were so potentially damaging and ill-conceived that the legislation took 14 months, and involved hundreds of amendments, that the release of the risk register was justifiable.

Lansley is still refusing to release the final version of the risk register, which was drawn up on November 10, 2010, for reasons that were made clear on February 2 by the pro-NHS campaigner Dr. Éoin Clarkeon his blog The Green Benches, just after Lansley refused to acknowledge the second ruling regarding the risk register. Dr. Clarke wrote: Read the rest of this entry »

As Sleaze Engulfs the Tories, Is This the Beginning of the End?

No one should be surprised that, as was revealed in secret footage shot by the Sunday Times in an investigation into government sleaze, the Tories’ co-treasurer Peter Cruddas offered access to the Prime Minister David Cameron and the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, in exchange for donations of up to £250,000, with the thinly-veiled promise that it would be helpful to donors’ interests.

Cruddas, who has made an estimated £750 million fortune in financial speculation, and is the founder of the online trading company Currency Management Consultants, met with, and was filmed by Sunday Times reporters posing as potential donors, who, as the BBC described it, “said they were British expats working for a company called Zenith incorporated in Liechtenstein with wealthy Middle Eastern funders.”

Telling the reporters that £250,000 gave them “premier league” access, and that “things will open up for you” if they donated that amount of money, Cruddas also explained, as the Guardian put it, “Two hundred grand to 250 is premier league … what you would get is, when we talk about your donations the first thing we want to do is get you at the Cameron/Osborne dinners. You do really pick up a lot of information and when you see the prime minister, you’re seeing David Cameron, not the prime minister. But within that room everything is confidential — you can ask him practically any question you want. If you’re unhappy about something, we will listen to you and put it into the policy committee at No 10 — we feed all feedback to the policy committee.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Syrian People’s Revolution, One Year On: Torture, Disappearances and Exile

A year ago, when the Arab Spring began — or, as the events were then called, the revolutionary movements in the Middle East (which had already toppled two western-backed dictators in Tunisia and Egypt) — I remember being surprised, and also worried, when Syrian activists held a “Day of Rage” in Damascus on March 15, and, the day after, other protestors in Damascus — mostly well-established human rights activists — called for the release from prison of other human rights activists, many of whom had been held for many years.

I was surprised, because Syria had a reputation for almost unparalleled brutality, torture and disappearances, and worried because I feared the authorities’ response, and sure enough, many of the human rights activists were imprisoned after their protest, although most — though not all — were soon released. However, almost immediately it became apparent that there was another front to Syria’s revolutionary impulses, which was not focused on the capital, but on the town of Daraa, with a population of nearly 100,000, which is in the south east of Syria, near the border with Jordan.

There, a group of schoolchildren had scrawled graffiti on the walls of their school, which stated, “The people want the overthrow of the regime.” The boys, aged between 10 and 15, were taken away by President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces, and tortured and abused, but instead of quelling revolt, the torture of the children, and the subsequent killing of civilians at protests after visits to the mosque on Fridays, and then at funerals for those killed, spread to other towns and cities as the weeks rolled by. Read the rest of this entry »

The “Taliban Five” and the Forgotten Afghan Prisoners in Guantánamo

In the last three months, much discussion has focused on the possibility that, as part of negotiations aimed at securing peace in Afghanistan, the US would release five high-level Taliban prisoners in Guantánamo. Almost entirely forgotten are 12 other Afghan prisoners at Guantánamo, who are mostly so insignificant that they have no one to lobby for them, and are being rather disgracefully overlooked.

The first information about discussions regarding the release of prisoners emerged in a Reuters article on December 19 last year, which explained how secret negotiations between the US government and the Taliban had begun ten months earlier. As part of “the accelerating, high-stakes diplomacy,” Reuters explained, the US was “considering the transfer of an unspecified number of Taliban prisoners from the Guantánamo Bay military prison into Afghan government custody.”

The day after, at a UN Security Council debate on Afghanistan, the Afghan deputy foreign minister Jawed Ludin “stressed the government’s determination to pursue reconciliation efforts despite Taliban attacks and assassinations,” as AFP described it. “We believe the process may benefit from the establishment of an office, within or outside Afghanistan, whereby formal talks between relevant Afghan authorities and representatives of armed opposition, including the Taliban, could be facilitated,” Ludin told the council, and AFP noted that Afghan authorities had “put forward Saudi Arabia or Turkey as the best places to set up a Taliban liaison office abroad to enable peace talks to end the devastating 10-year insurgency.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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