Archive for March, 2013

Prison-Wide Hunger Strike Still Rages at Guantánamo

Three weeks ago, I wrote an article entitled, “A Huge Hunger Strike at Guantánamo,” in which I reported the stories emerging from Guantánamo of a prison-wide hunger strike, the most severe since George W. Bush was President, and the gulf between what was being reported by the prisoners, via their attorneys, and what the US authorities were saying.

At the time, the authorities stated that just six of the 166 men still held were classified as hunger strikers, and that five were being force-fed, through tubes inserted up their nose and into their stomachs — these men all being long-term hunger strikers, at least one of whom has, alarmingly, been on a hunger strike since 2005.

It was, to be frank, inconceivable that the hunger strike had been invented by the prisoners, when attorneys reported visiting their clients, and seeing that they had lost 20 to 30 pounds in weight. However, it took until March 15, as Carol Rosenberg reported for the Miami Herald, for “the first admission of a protest” to be made by the authorities. Navy Capt. Robert Durand, a spokesman for the prison authorities, denied “a widespread phenomenon, as alleged,” but conceded, “for the first time after weeks of denial,” as Rosenberg put it, “that the number had surged to 14 from the five or six detainees who had for years been considered hunger strikers among the 166 captives at Guantánamo.” Read the rest of this entry »

Voices from the Hunger Strike in Guantánamo

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 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.

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we are deeply concerned about the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, which we first wrote about here, and its effect on prisoners already ground down by what, for the majority of them, is eleven years of indefinite detention without charge or trial, with no end to their imprisonment in sight after President Obama failed to fulfill his promise to close the prison.

The President has been hindered by the intervention of Congress, where lawmakers, for cynical reasons, intervened to impose almost insurmountable restrictions to the release of prisoners, but President Obama is also to blame — through his refusal to make Guantánamo an issue, since that promise to close it on his second day in office, and through his imposition of an unjustifiable ban on releasing Yemenis cleared for release by his own inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force.

Of the 166 men still held, 86 were cleared for release by the Task Force, and two-thirds of these men are Yemenis, consigned to Guantánamo, possibly forever, because, over three years ago, a Nigerian man, recruited in Yemen, tried and failed to blow up a plane bound for the US and a moratorium on releasing Yemenis was issued by President Obama. The others are either hostages of Congress, or men in need of third countries to offer them a new home, because they face torture or other ill-treatment their home countries. Read the rest of this entry »

TV and Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo, the Hunger Strike and Shaker Aamer

It’s been a busy week, with the prison-wide hunger strike still raging at Guantánamo, and the government’s denials about it taking place crumbling under sustained media interest.

I’m delighted that the major US newspapers have picked up on the story, and also that CBS News and CNN have finally deigned to cover it, although in general, as was noted at the start of the week by RT — which is engaged in the kind of sustained coverage of the story that ought to be undertaken by the US networks — US TV remains a Guantánamo-free zone.

I appeared briefly on RT’s show on Monday about the hunger strike — part of a short interview that replaced a larger segment planned for last Friday that was scuppered by technical problems — but what I particularly liked about the show was how RT succinctly exposed the shallowness of most US broadcast news, and the ignorance of the American public when it comes to Guantánamo.

In the streets of New York, a reporter for RT asked residents if they knew that over half of the 166 men still in Guantánamo — 86 in total — had been cleared for release but are still held  — only to be met with surprise and, in some cases, evident shock and indignation. Read the rest of this entry »

Protest Photos: Shaker Aamer and Guantánamo, and an NHS Roadblock Outside Parliament

Andy Worthington and Omar Deghayes at a Guantanamo event in Westminster University, March 19, 2013Calling for the release of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo at a day of action in Tooting, March 23, 2013Andy Worthington and Jean Lambert with Shaker Aamer's childrenRoad block for the NHSRoad block for the NHS, with John Hamilton of People Before ProfitA "die-in" for the NHS, on the road in front of Parliament
The police and the NHS "die-in" outside Parliament

Protest Photos: Shaker Aamer and Guantanamo, and an NHS Roadblock Outside Parliament, a set on Flickr.

This photo set collects a few photos from events over the last week and a half that I haven’t included in any other sets — three relating to the ongoing campaign to free Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, and to bring him back to the UK to be reunited with his wife and children, and four of a “die-in” for the NHS, involving a roadblock outside the Houses of Parliament, during a protest that took place prior to a Parliamentary lobby on Tuesday.

I have been writing about Shaker Aamer’s case — and campaigning for his release —  for many years, not just because Guantánamo has been a legal, moral and ethical abomination since its creation over 11 years ago, and remains so to this day, but also because his release is so long overdue. He was first told that he would be released under President Bush, in 2007, and again under President Obama in 2009, but, disgracefully, he is still held. Read the rest of this entry »

Save the NHS: Photos and Report from the Lobby of Parliament on March 26 to Scrap the New Regulations Enforcing NHS Privatisation

Hands off our NHSReject Section 75 regulations: Defend our NHSCaring for the NHSBBC! Where are you???Defend Haringey Health ServicesSave Charing Cross Hospital!
Stop the great NHS sell-off!Save our hospitalsSave Lewisham HospitalSave Lewisham A&ENHS campaigners call for the government to drop NHS privatisation plansStop killing our NHS
Guerrilla advertising to save the NHSCaroline Lucas MP at the Parliamentary lobby to save the NHS on March 26, 2013Brian Fisher GP at the Parliamentary lobby to save the NHS on March 26, 2013Save the NHS

Save the NHS: The Lobby of Parliament on March 26 to Scrap the New Regulations Enforcing NHS Privatisation, a set on Flickr.

Yesterday, in the Houses of Parliament, a passionate and packed-out meeting took place in one of the House of Commons committee rooms, attended by well over a hundred campaigners for the NHS, at which MPs, doctors and activists spoke, and there were also intelligent contributions from the audience, as, collectively, we tried to work out how, in the short term, to resist the government’s latest plans to privatise the NHS, and, in the longer term, how to save the NHS and build a successful movement to oppose the whole of the wretched age of austerity imposed on us by the Tory-led coalition government for malignant ideological purposes; in short, in an effort to destroy the state provision of almost all services — with one exception, of course, being their salaries and expenses.

The spur for the meeting, and the rally outside that preceded it, is the government’s plan to push through privatisation of the NHS — despite explicit promises not to do so — through secondary legislation relating to Section 75 of the wretched Health and Social Care Act that was passed last year, in which almost all NHS services will have to be put out to tender by the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), the groups of GPs who will be responsible for 80 percent of the NHS budget from April 1.

Although 350,000 people recently signed a 38 Degrees petition opposing the plans (which I wrote about here), and Lib Dem minister Norman Lamb promised that the key regulations on competition in the NHS would be rewritten, the rewritten regulations have barely changed, and they still oblige the NHS to put almost all NHS services out to tender, allowing private companies to begin to devour the whole of the NHS or face legal challenges that they will probably lose, because enforced competition will have been made into a key component of the provision of NHS services. Read the rest of this entry »

Free Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo: Photos and Report from Saturday’s Day of Action in Tooting

Please sign the e-petition calling for the British government to secure the return to the UK from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who has been cleared for release since 2007 but is still held. 100,000 signatures are needed by April 20. This is for UK citizens and residents only, but there is no lower age limit, so children can sign as well as adults. A global petition, for anyone anywhere in the world, is available here.

On Saturday, despite the snow and the bitterly cold weather, campaigners from the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign held a Day of Action in Tooting for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who is still held, despite having been cleared for release from the prison under George W. Bush (in 2007) and again under President Obama (in 2009). Shaker has a British wife and four British children, and lived just down the road in Battersea before his capture and his long imprisonment without charge or trial at Guantánamo.

The Day of Action included a meeting at the Tooting Islamic Centre, at which the speakers were myself, Jean Lambert MEP (London representative of the Green Party) and Jane Ellison MP (the Conservative MP for Battersea), as well as Sheikh Suliman Gani, the Imam of the Tooting Islamic Centre, and Joy Hurcombe, the chair of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, who chaired the meeting.

The Day of Action also included campaigners encouraging the people of Tooting to sign the e-petition to the British government calling for renewed action on the part of ministers to secure Shaker’s immediate return from Guantánamo. Read the rest of this entry »

“No Indefinite Detention at Guantánamo,” US Claims, Defying Reality

We live in surreal times. President Obama, who promised “hope and change,” has, instead, proven to be a worthy successor to George W. Bush as a warmonger and a defender of those in positions of power and authority who authorized the use of torture.

In addition, when it comes to another hallmark of Bush-era crimes — indefinite detention without charge or trial, for those that the Bush administration identified as “enemy combatants” — President Obama has gone further than his predecessor.

After the sustained paranoia of the first few years after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush found his policies challenged by the Supreme Court, and subjected to international criticism, and began to back down. Obama, however, having promised to close Guantánamo, but then having discovered that it was politically difficult to do so, has contented himself with finding justifications for continuing to hold the 166 men still at Guantánamo, possibly for the rest of their lives.

This is in spite of the fact that over half of them (86 men in total) were cleared for release by an inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force established in 2009 by President Obama himself, consisting of around 60 officials from the main government departments and the intelligence agencies, who met every week to examine the prisoners’ cases, and to decide who should be released, who should be tried, and — shockingly — who should continue to be held without charge or trial, on the basis that they were too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo with Dennis Bernstein on Flashpoints, on 10th Anniversary of Iraq War

As the world’s media marked the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq on Tuesday, I was honoured to be asked to speak to Dennis Bernstein, the veteran progressive radio host at KPFA in Berkeley.

Dennis and I have spoken before, and it’s always a pleasure to talk with him, but I was particularly pleased that I was asked to speak about Guantánamo as part of a program about Iraq, as far too few people in the media make the connections between the invasion of Iraq, the invasion of Afghanistan, Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, the use of torture and “black sites.”

The show is available here, or you can listen directly to the MP3 here.

At the start of the show, Dennis spoke to Raed Jarrar, an Iraqi exile who works for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and who delivered a searing indictment of the apologist for the Iraq war, ten years on, who pretend that it was, on an level, worthwhile, when, as he pointed out, it led to “one million dead, five million displaced, and the country in a shambles.”

My segment starts at 28 minutes in and last for a quarter of an hour, and began with Dennis asking me to recap how I researched the story of Guantánamo, and got to know about the stories of the men held there (through an analysis of 8,000 pages released by the Pentagon as the result of an FOIA lawsuit), and why the lies told about them — that they were “the worst of the worst” — were so outrageous: primarily, because the majority of the prisoners were bought for bounty payments from their Afghan and Pakistani allies, and because most of what purports to be evidence against them consists of dubious or patently false statements made by the prisoners themselves, or by their fellow prisoners, through the use of torture, abuse, or bribery (the promise of better living conditions). Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Andy Worthington Discusses the Guantánamo Hunger Strike on Press TV

For the last fortnight I have been writing about, and discussing the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, in my articles “A Huge Hunger Strike at Guantánamo” and “How Long Can the Government Pretend that the Massive Hunger Strike at Guantánamo Doesn’t Exist?” and in an appearance on RT, which I wrote about here.

Below, via YouTube, is my most recent TV appearance to discuss the hunger strike, which involved a late night Skype call from Press TV at 2am on March 20.

I hope you have the opportunity to watch it, and to share it if you find it useful.

To recap briefly on the situation at Guantánamo, it is clear that, for the last six weeks, over 100 of the remaining 166 prisoners — and perhaps as many as 130 — have been refusing meals, in protest at deteriorating conditions at the prison, including aggressive cell searches, the seizure of their possessions and correspondence (including supposedly confidential correspondence with their attorneys), and mistreatment of their copies of the Koran. Read the rest of this entry »

Intimations of Mortality Revisited; or Why I Will Always Fight to Save the NHS

Two years ago — at noon on March 18, 2011 — I gave up smoking after chain-smoking for 29 years. It was one of the best things I ever did in my life, along with giving up drinking (nearly five years ago), and meeting my wife and having a child.

When I gave up smoking, I did so because I was admitted to hospital after two and a half months of severe pain in my right foot, which, in the last fortnight before my hospital admission, had become so excruciatingly painful that I literally couldn’t sleep. I wrote about it at the time, in an article entitled, “Intimations of Mortality” — hence the reference in the title above, as I revisit this crucial period of my life.

I had developed a blood disorder, which had manifested itself as a blood clot, cutting off the blood supply to my right foot — first to my big toe, and then to my middle toe. It took two months for me to be admitted to hospital, but, when that happened, doctors and consultants in St. Thomas’s Hospital saved my toes, and I was discharged after spending about a week and half being pumped full of drugs and gazing across the River Thames at the Houses of Parliament (as the photo above shows). Within three months, my toes had healed, and I contributed to keeping myself alive by giving up smoking, and, I think, by somehow “managing” the indignation I feel about the injustices of the world, an indignation that had led to me discovering, in my late 30s, that my calling was to be an independent journalist and activist — on civil liberties, human rights abuses, and social justice. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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