Archive for May, 2012

Ahmed Belbacha, An Algerian Refugee in Guantánamo, Has Been Waiting for a New Home Since 2007

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

The message came in February 2007: Prisoner 290 was cleared to leave Guantánamo. Prisoner 290, Ahmed Belbacha, greeted the news not with jubilation, but with fears that he would be returned to his home country, Algeria, against his will. Ahmed was in a difficult position. Born in 1969 in Algiers, to a middle class family, he has ten siblings and would love to be reunited with his family, but Algeria is not a safe place for him.

After high school, he worked as an accountant for the state oil company, Sonatrach, where he also played for the company’s football team. He worked for Sonatrach until 1997, with a break for national service, but when he was called for a second period of national service, he attracted the unwelcome attentions of the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), the government’s Islamist opponents, who threatened to kill him if he rejoined the army, and also told him to give up his his job.

Unable to evade those threatening him, he decided he had leave Algeria, and traveled to the UK, where he found work in the southern English seaside town of Bournemouth, working first in a launderette (laundromat), and then at the Swallow Royal Hotel, where he was responsible for cleaning Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott’s room during the 1999 Labour Party conference, a job that he did so well that the Deputy PM gave him a thank-you note and a tip. Read the rest of this entry »

Why No Trials for Abu Zubaydah and Seven Other “High-Value Detainees” in Guantánamo?

Two weeks ago, when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other “high-value detainees” were arraigned at Guantánamo, in preparation for their forthcoming trial by military commission, they brought to eight the number of “high-value detainees” tried, put forward for trials or having agreed to a plea deal to avoid a trial and secure a reduced sentence.

In total, 16 “high-value detainees” have been sent to Guantánamo — 14 in September 2006, another in 2007 and another in 2008. One, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, was tried and convicted in federal court in New York in 2010, another, Majid Khan, accepted a plea deal in February this year, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his four co-defendants join another prisoner, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, in the slow-moving queue for military commission trials at Guantánamo.

But what of the other eight? Are there any plans to try them? Or is the Obama administration happy for them to be held for the rest of their lives without charge or trial — a confirmation, if any were needed, that indefinite detention without charge or trial has, through Guantánamo, become normalized? Read the rest of this entry »

Come to UK Uncut’s Anti-Austerity Street Party in London and Across the UK, Saturday May 26

Fed up with an artificial age of austerity, designed to destroy the welfare state and transfer every remaining function of the state — the NHS, education, land, property, even the police — into private hands? Fed up with being told by wealthy, out-of-touch Tories that “we’re all in this together,” when we clearly aren’t? Fed up of the nationalistic nonsense driving the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, 35 years after the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” accurately demolished deference to the monarchy? Fed up with the corporate, militarised, jingoistic haemorrhaging of money for the Olympics?

Then you, my friend, need to attend UK Uncut’s Great British Street Party, next Saturday, May 26. As the anti-cuts direct action group explained last month in an announcement of the plans:

Let’s go on a journey back in time to the year 1948 …

Britain was emerging from a World War and had a huge national debt. Much bigger than the one we face today. Did we see painful cut backs and austerity measures? No, quite the opposite. We saw the birth of our National Health Service and the Welfare State. The UK was the first country to make health care, social care and financial security accessible to all.

1948 saw the launch of ground-breaking new laws designed to protect and care for everybody in our society, including universal unemployment benefits, universal child benefits, disability benefits, rights to housing and the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Read the rest of this entry »

Rents Out of Control: How Londoners Are Being Fleeced by Greedy Landlords

Yesterday, in my article bemoaning the baleful effect on London of hosting the Olympic Games, I touched upon a story that had emerged last week, when the BBC reported that tenants in east London were being evicted as their landlords sought to cash in on the Olympics, charging up to 20 times the normal rent. The BBC noted that one estate agent “said properties typically rented for £350 per week were being marketed for £6,000 per week,” and the housing charity Shelter said it had “seen increasing evidence of landlords giving tenants little time to leave or increasing rents hugely during the Olympics,” and worried that “the situation will get worse as the Games approach.”

This is pretty disgusting, although it should come as no surprise really, as Britain has, over my lifetime, became a country where any means of making money is regarded as laudable, and wealth is, in many ways, the only barometer of success.

However, even without this particularly excessive behaviour brought on by the Olympics, the rental market in London is out of control. A shortage of housing, an excess of demand, the eradication of empathy, and the casual greed that underpins the buy-to-let mentality has meant that families and individuals unable to get on a housing ladder that is out of reach for many people — as prices in London and the south east remain outrageously high — are being thoroughly fleeced by landlords who are not bound by any rules and regulations, and who can — and often do — treat them with disdain while milking them of half their wages or more. Read the rest of this entry »

Our Olympic Hell: A Militarised, Corporate, Jingoistic Disgrace

Last month, when it was revealed that the MoD was siting surface-to-air missiles on the roofs of residential buildings as part of the bloated security measures for the Olympics — estimated to cost at least £1.4 billion, to be paid for by taxpayers — there was a brief flurry of outrage, although not enough to bring the plans to an end. Two weeks ago, during a week-long “military exercise” in London, Simon Jenkins, in the Guardian, captured something of the surreal excesses involved when a pliant government comes up against the extraordinary demands of the International Olympic Committee:

RAF Typhoon jets are to scream back and forth over the Thames. Starstreak surface-to-air missile batteries are being set up in East End parks and on flats in Bow, with 10 soldiers manning each one. Army and navy helicopters will clatter back and forth, with snipers hanging from their doors “to shoot down pilots of terrorist planes”.

Machine-guns will for the first time be toted by guards on the London tube. Police special forces, “trained to kill”, will wear balaclavas to avoid identification. There are to be naval landing craft roaming the coast off Weymouth and submarines at the ready. The Olympics have become a festival of the global security industry, with a running and jumping contest as a sideshow. No one in government dares call a halt. Nero in his prime could not have squandered so much money on circuses.

The Olympics have become an Orwellian parody of what happens when a world agency blackmails a government aching for prestige into spending without limit. Not one defence spokesman has come up with a plausible scenario for the jets and missiles. The latter have a range of just three miles and are said to be usable “only at the express instruction of the prime minister”. What will they shoot down, and on whose head will it crash? Read the rest of this entry »

War Crimes Tribunal in Malaysia Finds Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld Guilty of Torture in Guantánamo and Iraq

Last November, a war crimes tribunal established in Malaysia “found George Bush and Tony Blair guilty of ‘crimes against peace’ and other war crimes for their 2003 aggressive attack on Iraq, as well as fabricating pretexts used to justify the attack,” as Glenn Greenwald explained at the time. The seven-member Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal, established in 2007 by Mahathir bin Mohamad, the Prime Minister  of Malaysia from 1981 to 2003, “has no formal enforcement power,” as Greenwald also explained, “but was modeled after a 1967 tribunal in Sweden and Denmark that found the US guilty of a war of aggression in Vietnam, and, even more so, after the US-led Nuremberg Tribunal held after World War II.”

The tribunal “ruled that Bush and Blair’s name should be entered in a register of war criminals, urged that they be recognized as such under the Rome Statute, and also petitioned the International Criminal Court “to proceed with binding charges.” Though symbolic, the purpose was hugely important, as a Malaysian lawyer explained at the time, saying, “For these people who have been immune from prosecution, we want to put them on trial in this forum to prove that they committed war crimes.” In other words, as Greenwald stated, “because their own nations refuse to hold them accountable and can use their power to prevent international bodies from doing so, the tribunal wanted at least formal legal recognition of these war crimes to be recorded and the evidence of their guilt assembled.”

Greenwald also noted, “That’s the same reason a separate panel of this tribunal will hold hearings later this year on charges of torture” against senior US officials, and last week this second tribunal convened, hearing from three witnesses — former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg, and Abbas Abid and Jameela Abbas, both victims of US torture in Iraq, as well as receiving written submissions from other victims. Read the rest of this entry »

The Tories’ Vile Workfare Project, and How It Has Now Infiltrated the NHS

Forcing people into jobs they don’t want, just to claim their benefit, might be defensible if there was pretty swiftly a real job available to those who were capable and wanted it, but as the Tory-led government has pushed its workfare scheme, the alarming truth is that it has created a forced working underclass of claimants working for their dole — at £1.78 to £2.25 an hour for a 30-hour week, in other words — who have not been gaining essential skills of preparing for a full-time job, but have instead, found themselves being exploited by huge companies happy to take on cheap labour to be dumped at the end of a trial period.

Writing about this in the Guardian last August, John Harris noted that workfare’s origins were in Labour’s “Flexible New Deal,” and that “one of the central ideas of Iain Duncan Smith’s Work Programme is ‘mandatory work activity‘: up to 30 weekly hours of faux-employment spread over 28 days, during which people have to do work ‘of benefit to the community’ in return for their jobseeker’s allowance of £67.50 a week [and just £53.45 a week for those aged between 18 and 24]. If they decline the offer of “experience” … or fail to make a go of it, their benefit can be stopped — for a minimum of three months, and six months if the transgression is repeated.”

However, although a campaigning website, Boycott Workfare, was established in 2010 to publicise the Workfare scandal, and the story resurfaced in January this year, when an enterprising young woman named Cait Reilly “launched judicial review proceedings in the high court,” as “a challenge to regulations that require up to 50,000 jobseekers to carry out unpaid work at major corporations,” it was not until February this year that the story unexpectedly broke into the mainstream, when a Tesco job advert in East Anglia — for night shift workers to be paid “JSA plus expenses” — was publicised and went viral, that public opinion swung in favour of those being exploited. Read the rest of this entry »

Occupy London, May 12: Photos from the Bank of England Protest and a Call for Global Solidarity

There was a point, during yesterday’s Occupy protest in the City of London, with hundreds of people flowing down High Viaduct from Holborn Circus, high above Farringdon Street, and heading towards Newgate Street, Cheapside and the Bank of England, when there was a real power to the message that protestors around the world are sending to their leaders, and to the bankers and corporations they serve — that their greed is still the problem, and that austerity targeted at the poor, the young and the disabled is unacceptable and unforgivable.

With a mobile sound system pumping out pounding militant dub music, there was, for a while, an energy surge that reminded me of the spirit of creative dissent that was such a feature of Britain when I was younger — in the free festivals of the 1970s, the class war of the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher took on the miners, the travellers and the printers, and the late 80s and early 90s, when the free party movement and the road protest movement emerged, and when, most resonantly in an urban context, the theatrical activists of “Reclaim the Streets” started a global movement of occupying high streets in cities around the world.

In the late 90s, until the universal distraction of the “war on terror” conveniently took over, allowing Western governments to clamp down more heavily on the civil liberties of their citizens than ever before, the anti-globalisation movement brought together all the elements of the dissenters from the 60s onwards — anti-capitalism, environmental activism, social liberalism, all driven by utopian, revolutionary and anarchist impulses — which are largely reconfigured in the current movement for global change. Read the rest of this entry »

Occupy London, May 12: Photos from St. Paul’s Cathedral Protest

The weather couldn’t have been better in London yesterday for the day of action organised as part of the “Global Spring,” an initiative by activists from the Occupy movement, representatives from Take the Square, and other groups in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, who have been planning events worldwide for today and May 15, the first anniversary of the start of the indignados movement in Spain. Click on the photo to enlarge.

I arrived at St. Paul’s Cathedral shortly after the advertised 1 o’clock start, to find St. Paul’s Churchyard, which was occupied from October 15 until its eviction on February 28, thronged with Socialists, utopians, dreamers, idealists, visionaries and anarchists — from the UK and from across Europe and around the world — filling the square, as speakers addressed the world’s ills, and the need for fundamental systemic change.

Some have argued that the Occupy movement has posed questions but has proposed few answers about how to effect change, but I think that rather misses the point. An unwillingness to be co-opted by the political mainstream, and an effort to make communal decisions, rather than trusting to charismatic leaders, was a bold and sensible way to begin, and, as has been revealed in the last few days, the “Global May Manifesto,” a work-in-progress produced over the last four months by activists from all round the world  looks, as I noted yesterday, like a first attempt to create a Universal Declaration of Human Rights for the times we find ourselves in — not the post-World War II community of idealists concerned to make sure that genocide and torture were outlawed (although that, sadly, still remains horribly relevant), but the 99 percent and the indignados faced with governments that serve only the interests of the very rich, whose criminal plunder is essentially unchecked. Read the rest of this entry »

“Close Guantánamo” Calls on US Communities to Demand Release of Cleared Prisoners in US

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us— just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Ever since it became apparent, during the Bush administration, that there were wrongly detained prisoners at Guantánamo who could not be safely repatriated, certain principled groups and individuals have pushed for those men to be given new homes in the United States, the country responsible for their lost years of arbitrary detention and abuse.

From the beginning, however, voices have also been raised in opposition to these calls, even though US officials realized early on that  too many “Mickey Mouse detainees” were being sent to Guantánamo from Afghanistan, as Maj. Gen. Michael Dunlavey, the commander of Guantánamo until October 2002, explained to the Los Angeles Times later that year. Officials also realized that some of these men — and boys — couldn’t be safely repatriated, but no one in a position of authority thought about granting political asylum to any of them.

The situation came to a head with the case of the Uighurs, Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province, who had escaped persecution in their homeland, and had only one enemy — the Chinese Communist government. Twenty-two Uighurs had been seized and sent to Guantánamo, but when the situation became tense for the administration, a third country was found for them instead. 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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