In the long quest for accountability for those who ordered, authorized or were complicit in the Bush administration’s torture program, every avenue has been shut down within the US by the Obama administration, the Justice Department and the courts, and the only hope lies elsewhere in the world, and specifically Poland, one of three European countries that hosted secret CIA prisons, where “high-value detainees” were subjected to torture.
Whereas the other two countries — Romania and Lithuania — have either refused to accept that a secret prison existed, or have opened and then prematurely shut an investigation, Poland has an ongoing official investigation, which began four years ago and shows no sign of being dismissed, even if numerous obstacles to justice have been erected along the way.
Last week, two US news outlets — the Los Angeles Times and ABC News — reported the latest claim by Senator Jozef Pinior, who, as ABC News explained, told the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza that prosecutors “have a document that shows a local contractor was asked to build a cage at Stare Kiekuty,” the Polish army base that was used by the CIA as its main prison for “high-value detainees” from December 2002 (when the previous prison in Thailand was closed down) until September 2003, when, for six months, the main “high-value detainees” were held in a secret prison within Guantánamo, before being transferred back to facilities in Europe and Morocco. 14 “high-value detainees” were eventually returned to Guantánamo, as military prisoners, in September 2006. Read the rest of this entry »
The Isle of Dogs, the River Lea and the Olympics, a set on Flickr.
Regular readers will know that, after the rainiest spring in living memory, I found myself unable to stay in the house when the sun started shining again. My mission to take advantage of the good weather, and to take exercise and stretch my eyes and my mind beyond what I was beginning to regard as the confines of my computer, has resulted, over the last few months, in numerous journeys around London by bike. With my camera close at hand, the intention of these journeys has generally had less to do with getting from A to B than with wandering, getting lost and exploring.
I recently set up a Flickr account, initially posting photos of my trip to the US in January to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo, and of other protests in the UK, but this week I also began posting photos from my London journeys, beginning with a set of photos of my initial cycle journey around Deptford and Greenwich, and continuing here. Others will follow soon.
I am, I think, fulfilling a long dormant need to be in motion physically rather than constantly undertaking the mental journeys of the last five years of my life as a full-time freelance investigative journalist, and I am also at the beginning of a long project to travel — and photograph — the whole of London by bike. I have discovered that, as well as looking for spectacular views of the city that has been my home for 27 years, including many that I have never seen before, I am also in search of forgotten corners, and images of decay, often set against those of what is often termed “regeneration,” as well as the explosions of dissent and nonconformity and colour that are to be found in London’s street art. Read the rest of this entry »
Note: Please feel free to visit the website of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, which I founded in January with the attorney Tom Wilner, and please join us to receive updates — just an email address required.
On Monday, in an editorial entitled, “Close Guantánamo,” which, I am pleased to note, drew on my recent report, Guantánamo Scandal: The 40 Prisoners Still Held But Cleared for Release At Least Five Years Ago, the Saudi Gazette called for President Obama to honor his promise to close Guantánamo, which, of course, he made on his second day in office in January 2009, issuing an executive order promising that the prison would be closed within a year. As the editors urged, “This is no time for Obama to be indecisive. He still has six months in office and can right a wrong and set out to close Guantánamo which he pledged to do even before he became president.”
The Saudi Gazette also took unerring aim at the recent decision by the Supreme Court not to accept appeals by seven prisoners whose cases had been dismissed by politically motivated judges in the court of appeals in Washington D.C., which I wrote about here and here (and discussed on TV here and here). The judges, led by Judge A. Raymond Randolph, who supported every piece of Guantánamo-related legislation under George W. Bush that was subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court, have been rewriting the rules governing the prisoners’ habeas corpus petitions to such an alarming extent that judges are now obliged to believe any dubious submission put forward as evidence by the government unless it can specifically be refuted, and, as a result, no prisoner has had his petition granted since July 2010.
The Saudi Gazette also claimed that defense secretary Robert Gates had “asked Obama to keep a little more than 100 detainees in indefinite detention … because they constituted an immediate danger to the security of the US but could not be put on trial” — a statement that requires some additional observations, and some corrections. The advice almost certainly came not from Gates but from the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force, established by President Obama to review the cases of all the prisoners, whose final report recommended that 84 prisoners should either be tried or held indefinitely. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, lawyers for Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen and former child prisoner who has been imprisoned in Guantánamo for nearly ten years, held a press conference in Ottawa to complain about the Canadian government’s failure to honor a deal that was supposed to guarantee his return to Canada eight months ago.
It is to be hoped that the press conference has succeeded in putting pressure on the government — and particularly on Public Safety Minister Vic Toews — to stop procrastinating, and to secure Khadr’s return, as agreed in the plea deal he signed at his military commission in Guantánamo in October 2010, when he was told that he would serve one more year at Guantánamo, and then be returned to Canada to serve the last seven years of an eight-year sentence.
At the press conference, John Norris, one of Khadr’s Canadian civilian lawyers, explained that his client was “trying to pursue an education as part of his rehabilitation,” and his two US military lawyers — Lt. Col. Jon Jackson and Maj. Matthew Schwartz — explained that they had spent hundreds of hours with him, and described him as “an intelligent young man” who is quick to learn and has a “love of learning.” As the Toronto Star put it, “Schwartz taught him geography, history and practiced singing O Canada and the American anthem with him,” and “Jackson taught science and mathematics, and read Shakespeare, The Hunger Games and The Road [by Cormac McCarthy] with him.” Lt. Col. Jackson explained, “His insights into those books shows he gets it, he gets what it means to be a useful member of society.” Read the rest of this entry »
Deptford and Greenwich, May 2012, a set on Flickr.
The latest set of photos I have posted to my new Flickr account is something of a departure for me, after my three US photosets and a UK protest set: the first instalment of a regular, ongoing series in which my intention is to visit — by bike — as much of London as possible, and to photograph whatever takes my interest: trees, rivers, skies, architecture and street art, derelict places, industrial sites, decay, hubris, forgotten corners and unusual juxtapositions.
I have been a cyclist from an early age, and first began taking photos around the age of 17, a passion that I let slip for many years, after my last analogue camera gave up the ghost, and that I did not renew — apart from regularly hijacking my wife’s camera on holidays — until she bought me a digital camera at Christmas: the small and attractive Canon Ixus 115 HS.
On May 11, when the sun started shining after the wettest spring in living memory, I found myself unable to stay indoors, and began to cycle — at first, as this set shows, down the hill from my home in Brockley, in south east London, to Greenwich and Deptford, and, as future sets will reveal, also around Brockley, Lewisham, Hither Green, Lee, Catford, to Forest Hill and on to Dulwich, and along the Thames north and south of the river. Read the rest of this entry »
Exactly 25 years ago, on June 26, 1987, the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into force, and in December 1997, the UN General Assembly proclaimed June 26 the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, “with a view to the total eradication of torture and the effective functioning of the Convention against Torture.”
As is painfully clear today, despite the support of 150 countries, the use of torture is still rife, and many of the countries that claim to adhere to the Convention have, in fact, shown a cynical — and in some cases blatant — disregard for its provisions.
One of those countries is, of course, the United States of America, which, under President George W. Bush, cynically attempted to redefine torture so that it could be used on “high-value detainees” seized in the “war on terror” in a network of secret prisons, and, moreover, withdrew the protections of the Geneva Conventions from the prisoners in Guantánamo, who were also tortured, and also tortured prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq — most notoriously in Bagram, the “Dark Prison” and the “Salt Pit” in Afghanistan and Abu Ghraib in Iraq, although its use was also widespread at other locations in Iraq.
To date, no one — beyond a few low-level personnel who did not design the abusive detention and interrogation regime that was introduced after 9/11 — has been held accountable for these crimes, and in the meantime, numerous torture victims — including 13 of the 14 “high-value detainees” who were delivered to Guantánamo in September 2006 from secret torture prisons run by the CIA, where they had been held for up to four and a half years — remain imprisoned, with no indication, for most of them, of when, if ever, they will even receive a trial. Read the rest of this entry »
In a new series, Breadline Britain, the Guardian is examining how the Tory-led government’s cuts are impacting on British families and individuals, and on the first day of the ongoing series, Amelia Hill provided an overview of the project, which has involved the Guardian commissioning a comprehensive study of the household finances of those in employment (or who are self-employed). As her introductory article explained:
Almost 7 million working-age adults are living in extreme financial stress, one small push from penury, despite being in employment and largely independent of state support … Unlike the “squeezed middle”, these 3.6m British households have little or no savings, nor equity in their homes, and struggle at the end of each month to feed themselves and their children adequately. They say they are unable to cope on their current incomes and have no assets to fall back on, leaving them vulnerable to something as simple as an unexpectedly large fuel bill.
Frank Field, the Labour MP for Birkenhead and former welfare minister, told the Guardian, “These figures are a mega-indictment on the mantra of both political parties, that work is the route out of poverty. What’s shocking about this is that these are people who want to work and are working but who, despite putting their faith in the politicians’ mantra, find themselves in another cul-de-sac. Recent welfare cuts and policy changes make it difficult to advise these people where they should turn to get out of it: it really is genuinely shocking.” Read the rest of this entry »
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.
Frustrated that Omar Khadr, the only Canadian citizen in Guantánamo, is still detained, eight months after he was supposed to be returned to Canada under the terms of a plea deal negotiated in October 2010, his US and Canadian lawyers — and the Canadian Senator Romeo Dallaire — held a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday to demand that the Canadian government honors its part of the agreement and secures Khadr’s return to Canada, the country of his birth.
Khadr was seized in July 2002 after a firefight in Afghanistan where he had been taken by his father, Ahmed Khadr, who is generally described as a fundraiser for Osama bin Laden. At the time of his capture he was just 15 years old, and should have been rehabilitated, under the terms of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, to which both the US and Canada are signatories.
Instead, however, he was horribly abused in US custody, and abandoned by the Canadian government. In October 2010, under the terms of the plea deal, he accepted that he had killed US Special Forces soldier Sgt. Christopher Speer, who died in a grenade attack during the firefight, and that he was an “alien unprivileged enemy belligerent,” who had no right to engage in combat with US forces at all, even though there is serious doubt about the claim that he threw the grenade that killed Sgt. Speer, and even though his confession effectively established a scenario in which the US claimed that it was illegal to raise arms against US forces in a war zone. Read the rest of this entry »
Protest 2012 – Guantánamo, Aafia Siddiqui and Shaker Aamer, a set on Flickr.
Since setting up my new Flickr account last week, I’ve posted three sets of photos from my US tour in January, to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo on the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison – in New York, on the national day of action in Washington D.C., and in San Francisco and Chicago.
This latest set contains photos from a number of campaigns and protests in which I’ve been involved this year, since I returned from the US — my visit to Brussels to show “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (the film I co-directed with Polly Nash) at the European Parliament, and two protests in London — a rally for the imprisoned Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui outside the US embassy in London on the 9th anniversary of her initial disappearance in Pakistan, and a protest outside Parliament calling for the return to the UK from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison. Other protests — with UK Uncut and Occupy London — can be found here, here, here and here.
My thanks to the MEPs Jean Lambert, Sarah Ludford and Ana Gomes, for their persistence in exposing the injustices of Guantánamo and the “war on terror,” and to the Justice for Aafia Coalition and the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign for their hard work on behalf of Dr. Siddiqui and Shaker Aamer. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, the bad news from the Supreme Court was not just manifested in the court’s decision to abdicate its responsibilities towards the prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, by turning down appeals submitted by seven of the 169 men still held, although that was a dreadful decision, establishing, as it did, that the D.C. Circuit Court could continue in its mission to extinguish the habeas corpus rights that had been granted to the prisoners by the Supreme Court in June 2008.
However, it was also accompanied by a refusal to consider an appeal by Jose Padilla, the US citizen held as an “enemy combatant” in a military brig on the US mainland for three and half years from June 2002 to November 2005, and tortured, particularly through the use of prolonged isolation, sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation.
On May 2, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in California, reversed a lower court decision (PDF) allowing Padilla to pursue a lawsuit against John Yoo, the Justice Department lawyer who wrote the notorious “torture memos,” in which he cynically attempted to redefine torture so that it could be used by the CIA. Padilla — and his mother, Estela Lebron — sought to hold Yoo “liable for damages they allege they suffered” during his “unlawful” detention, which was “in violation of his constitutional and statutory rights,” but the court disagreed. As Scott Horton explained for Harper’s Magazine: Read the rest of this entry »
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