Archive for March, 2012

The Case of Shawali Khan, an Afghan in Guantánamo, Sold to US Forces 10 Years Ago

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

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we have been watching with interest the ongoing negotiations regarding five of the 17 remaining Afghan prisoners at Guantánamo. In December, it was revealed that, for the previous ten months, the US government and the Taliban had been conducting secret negotiations, and that the US was considering releasing the five men from Guantánamo, all of whom were allegedly significant Taliban prisoners.

It was not until January that it became clear that the men were to be exchanged for a US prisoner, Bowe Bergdahl, a 25-year-old US Army sergeant from Hailey, Idaho, who was taken prisoner on June 30, 2009 in Afghanistan, and that the negotiations would involve the five Taliban prisoners being released in Qatar, where they would be held under a form of house arrest, and, at the prisoners’ request, would be reunited with their families.

These releases are now on hold, as the Taliban suspended negotiations with the US last week, following the killing of 16 civilians, including nine children, by Staff Sgt. Robert Bales. Read the rest of this entry »

The Baleful Effects of NHS Privatisation Are Already Happening

As the NHS is opened up to a tsunami of privatisation, the first alarming revelations about the potential disaster it will cause have already been revealed, in a number of articles in the Guardian over the last week — one dealing with “an assessment by the Faculty of Public Health (FPH) of the risks involved in the forthcoming overhaul of the NHS in England,” and the other dealing with reports that children’s services in Devon are likely to be privatised. Please note that Serco and Virgin Care, who are competing in Devon to run children’s services (despite having no experience), where insiders have explained that one or other company is likely to end up winning out over the NHS bid, were also targeted for direct action by the “Block the BIll” activists (as I explained here).

A risk assessment by the Faculty of Public Health

The first Guardian article provided an overview of a risk assessment by the FPH, which represents 3,300 public health specialists in the NHS, local councils and academia. The authors state, unequivocally, that the bill poses “significant risks … to patients and the general public” and could well damage “people’s health and patients’ experience of care.” They add, “It is likely that the most vulnerable who already suffer the worst health outcomes will be disadvantaged as a result of the enactment of the bill,” noting also that, as the Guardian put it,. “[p]oorer people are unlikely to be able to use the greater patient choice that the bill entails,” or, as the authors describe it, “Operation of choice in an environment of multiple providers will disadvantage those who are less educated, have reduced access to resources such as the internet, or for other reasons are less able to navigate the healthcare market.”

As the Guardian also explained, “Whole areas of healthcare provision may disappear and patients could be forced to go private because clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) — the new groups of local GPs who will become responsible for agreeing and paying for patients’ treatment from April 2013 — are only tasked with deciding what services are needed in order to ‘meet all necessary requirements’ of the populations for whom they are responsible.” Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: The “Austerity Isn’t Working” Protest Outside Downing Street and Parliament

UK Uncut, the organisers of the “Austerity Isn’t Working” Dole Queue outside Downing Street this morning advised supporters to turn up for 11 am prompt for a recreation of the notorious “Labour Isn’t Working” poster from 1979 as a protest on Budget Day — and, lamentably, as a wake for the NHS. In the end, there were, at first, dozens and then hundreds of us — largely unaffiliated protestors — milling about outside Downing Street, tentatively striking up conversations with each other, while members of  Coalition of Resistance, CND, the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union and Stop the War set up stall on the other side of the road, and the organisers were nowhere in sight.

At 11 o’clock, however, it all suddenly came together, as the UK Uncut activists arrived with an “Unemployment Office” banner and hundreds of us queued up in an attempt to recreate the poster that helped Margaret Thatcher win the 1979 General Election. Because Downing Street was so crowded, it was difficult to capture a good image of the queue (which was, to be fair, a rather disorderly affair), but the atmosphere was thrilling, and after the demoralising news about the NHS yesterday it was good to be with like-minded people — even if the general impression is still that most of the country has fallen into an irreversible coma.

As a result, the organisers decided to move down to the gardens opposite Parliament, where TV broadcasters had set up a raised platform to discuss the budget, and where four of them bravely tried to soldier on with their commentary as the crowd struck up a deafening and repeated cry of “Tax the rich, not the poor.” Eventually, they gave up, and as a rather more successful attempt was made to recreate the 1979 dole queue, and various “no cuts” chants rang through the balmy air, it was clear that the event had been a success, and we had hijacked the mainstream media. Read the rest of this entry »

The Privatisation of the NHS: Why It Will Be the Death Knell for the Tory-Led Coalition Government

With the failure of the last challenge to Andrew Lansley’s wretched NHS reform bill in the House of Commons, where Labour’s emergency debate was defeated by 328 votes to 246, I have to ask: how is it possible, in a so-called democracy, for a government without a mandate to ignore the complaints of healthcare professionals, at every level, and push ahead with a bill that will do more damage to the NHS than anything in the health service’s 64-year history?

Criticism of Andfew Lansley’s bill, throughout the NHS, has been intense from the moment it was first unveiled last January, as I reported last February, in an article entitled, Battle for Britain: Resisting the Privatization of the NHS and the Loss of 100,000 Jobs, and in March the BMA (the British Medical Association), which represents 140,000 doctors and medical students, voted to “call a halt to the proposed top down reorganisation of the NHS” and to “withdraw the Health and Social Care Bill.”

After a temporary halt to the bill, and a fake “listening exercise,” the government resumed its assault on the NHS, as I explained in two articles in September, Save the NHS: Make No Mistake, the Government Plans to Privatise Our Precious Health Service and Save the NHS: As Lib Dems Vote to Support Tory Privatisation Plans, The Last Hope is the House of Lords, in which I quoted Colin Leys, an author and an honorary professor at Goldsmiths College, who, in an article entitled, “The end of the NHS as we know it,” complained that “many, if not most, of the political elite no longer care whether they are carrying out the wishes of the electorate, and barely pretend that we are any longer a democracy,” and spelled out what the bill means: Read the rest of this entry »

Austerity Isn’t Working: UK Uncut Protest Outside Downing Street on Budget Day, March 21, 2012

Tomorrow morning, please join me as I help the campaigning group UK Uncut cause a stir on Budget Day by lining up with hundreds of other people outside Downing Street to declare that “Austerity Isn’t Working,” recreating the Tories’ notorious “Labour Isn’t Working” poster that helped Margaret Thatcher win the 1979 General Election. Click on the image to enlarge.

If ever there was a time to say to the government that its plans are an unmitigated failure, it is surely now, with unemployment at a 17-year high, and youth unemployment and women’s unemployment at even more historic levels — over a million 16-24 years old, for example (22.5 percent of the total number of young people), cannot find a job.

In response, of course, while pushing ahead with a disastrous and unwanted NHS reform bill, the Tory-led coalition government has also savagely attacked those who are unemployed (as the recent workfare scandal demonstrated), as well as the working poor and, most wretchedly of all, the disabled — and, in particular, the disabled people who are unable to work, but whom the government is portraying as scroungers.

These assaults on the most vulnerable members of society would be disgraceful at the best of times, but represent an almost unspeakably cruel failure of empathy and responsible leadership, in the interests of the country as a whole, during an economic depression. And make no mistake, this clearly is a depression, as part of the slow collapse of the West after the self-inflicted economic crash of 2008, the refusal to deal with it adequately, and the fact that most manufacturing now takes place in other countries. Read the rest of this entry »

As the House of Lords Passes the NHS Privatisation Bill, Labour Secures an Emergency Debate Tomorrow

Despite high hopes that members of the House of Lords would recognise their place in the history books on the side of the people, rather than on the side of David Cameron, Andrew Lansley, their Lib Dem stooges and the corporations who plan to make a killing out of the privatisation of the NHS, the Lords have voted by 328 votes to 213 to dismiss Lord Owen’s amendment, which, in a very reasonable manner, called for passage of the bill to be withheld pending the publication of the transition risk register, which a Freedom of Information tribunal ordered the government to release — for a second time — ten days ago. Not a single Lib Dem peer voted with Lord Owen, and just 27 out of 90 other crossbench peers supported him (see here for the analysis of votes).

The only good news is that, as the Guardian explained, the shadow health secretary Andy Burnham “has secured an additional Commons debate on the Health Bill for tomorrow afternoon on the issue of the NHS transition risk register.”

Announcing the approval of the emergency debate by the Speaker, John Bercow, Andy Burnham said:

Tomorrow’s debate will show the weight of feeling in the country. People care passionately about the NHS and they have a right to know the full implications of the Government’s proposed reorganisation. This Government is insulting Parliament by expecting it to support these plans whilst withholding information that could change the way MPs vote. Read the rest of this entry »

Last Chance to Save the NHS: Will the House of Lords Stop the Government’s Wretched Bill?

How did we end up in this mess? A majority of those who work for the NHS, at every level, and a majority of the public, believe that Andrew Lansley’s wretched NHS reform bill — technically, the Health and Social Care Bill, but more colloquially, and accurately, known as the NHS privatisation bill — should be scrapped, but the legislation appears to be unstoppable.

The latest group to oppose it was the the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), who, just last week, voted to stop the bill. 69% (6,092 respondents) rejected it in its current form, and, breaking that down, as the Guardian described it, “49% (4,386) said they wanted the RCP to ‘seek withdrawal of the bill,’ while slightly fewer — 46% (4,099) — said it should ‘continue to engage critically on further improving the bill.'” Typically, the Tories attacked the RCP findings, because only 35 percent of members had responded, but ministers should not forget that less than a quarter of the British people who were eligible to vote in the General Election in 2010 voted for the Tories, who clearly do not have a mandate for anything they are doing.

Lansley’s NHS bill was temporarily halted last spring for a “listening exercise,” after the first wave of antipathy towards it, and it has since been subjected to so many amendments that it doesn’t even make sense to healthcare professionals, but its central aim — of enforcing increased competition in the NHS — remains intact, and, as is clear from an examination of who stands to gain from it, it is not the patients, but the private companies with whom, of course, many in Parliament are far too intimately involved. Read the rest of this entry »

As Armed Police Turn Up At A Peaceful Protest in Whitehall to Save the NHS, I Reflect on the First Anniversary of My Hospitalisation and Cure

Is this really necessary? On Saturday afternoon, during a peaceful protest by several hundred people who had braved the poor weather to campaign outside the Department of Health on Whitehall against the Tory-led coalition government’s despised NHS reform bill, armed police — with machine-guns — turned up, and members of the notorious Territorial Support Group were also present, to intimidate protestors and practice some kettling.

The photo above, of an armed policeman close to Trafalgar Square and at the top of Whitehall is by melpressmen and below is a video by Kate Belgrave of a peaceful woman protestor being pushed the ground by a member of the Territorial Support Group. For other coverage, see the reports by A Latent Existence and by Dr NoCuts on Storify.

Perhaps this was an opportunity for the police to practice some intimidation prior to the security overkill that will be the London Olympic experience, but it was depressing to see such attitude and the clear threat of extreme heavy-handedness being promoted. Read the rest of this entry »

The Complete Guantánamo Files: WikiLeaks and the Prisoners Released in 2007 (Part Three 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 hopefully be completed later this year, although that is contingent on finding new funding.

This is Part 33 of the 70-part series. 411 stories have now been told. See the entire archive here.

In late April last year, 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 »

Video: Andy Worthington Discusses the US-UK Special Relationship on Russia Today, Involving War, Torture, Extradition and Shaker Aamer

Yesterday, I was pleased to be invited to discuss the “special relationship” between the US and the UK on Russia Today, which was timely, of course, as David Cameron was visiting Barack Obama, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to discuss how the “special relationship,” which transcends party politics, seems, on recent evidence, to be based on warmongering, complicity in torture, and a shared belief in the shredding of long-established laws.

In response to questions from the host, Alla Key, I was also given the opportunity to wonder whether the two leaders would be managing to find time to discuss people whose lives are being ruined by the dreadful US-UK extradition agreement, whereby British citizens are being imprisoned for years and/or facing draconian prison sentences and savage conditions of confinement without the need for evidence to be presented, and with no regard for whether they would be better off tried in the UK instead, or whether extradition is correct in cases that do not even involve crimes in the UK.

Alla mentioned the most recent case — Richard O’Dwyer, a young man facing extradition regarding TVShack, a website he owned that, according to US prosecutors, hosted links to pirated films and television programmes. — but I also found the opportunity to mention Babar Ahmad, who has been imprisoned for eight years fighting his extradition, and, on a separate topic, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, cleared since 2007, whose continued detention is unjustifiable, but who is unlikely to have been a topic of discussion between the two leaders. 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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