Archive for April, 2013

Calling for Shaker Aamer’s Release from Guantánamo: Parliamentary Debate and Protest on April 24

The case of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, is one that has taken up much of my time since the other British residents were released in 2007 and 2009, and I feel I have got to know him through his accounts from the prison — some made available to me last year via Ramzi Kassem, one of his lawyers (see here, here and here), and, this year, since the prison-wide hunger strike began, through the accounts of phone calls with Shaker made by Clive Stafford Smith, another of his lawyers, and the director of Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity (see here and here). These feelings were reinforced last month when I met his wife and his four children at an event in Tooting Islamic Centre with Jane Ellison MP and Jean Lambert MEP.

I am delighted that the e-petition calling for the British government to take renewed action to secure Shaker’s return from Guantánamo secured 100,000 signatures last week, making it eligible for a Parliamentary debate — and I’d like to publicly thank the many, many people who worked tirelessly to secure that result. Shaker’s ongoing detention is an indictment of the indifference of the US government and the British government, because he was cleared for release under President Bush in 2007, and again in 2009 under President Obama, but is still held.

The Parliamentary debate is taking place tomorrow, Wednesday April 24, in Westminster Hall, in the Houses of Parliament, and members of the public are allowed to attend. Please do go along if you can. The debate is from 9.30 to 11am, but you will need to make sure that you have time to clear security, so an 8.30 arrival is advisable.

Afterwards, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign will be holding a demonstration in Parliament Square, from 11.30 to 2pm. Read the rest of this entry »

Save the NHS: Urge the Lords to Fight Privatisation, Plus Updates from Lewisham

Wednesday April 24 may be the day that the NHS dies — or that it lives on. On April 1, largely unnoticed by the people of England, the most popular institution in the land, the NHS (the National Health Service), was privatised by the Tory-led government, in regulations relating to Article 75 of the Health and Social Care Act, which force competition on almost all NHS business.

If they are not reversed, the regulations will lead to private companies swiftly and effectively dismantling the NHS, cherry-picking services they can easily make profits out of, and cowing the newly appointed Clinical Commissioning Groups (the GPs responsible for 80 percent of the NHS budget), who will be afraid of ruinously expensive legal challenges if they dare to take on the private sector.

This is a disaster of colossal proportions, and yet it has barely been reported by the mainstream media, although medical websites and blogs, and campaigners — myself included — have been covering it since the regulations first surfaced in February.

On Wednesday April 24, the House of Lords has a historic opportunity to derail the regulations. Please email members of the House of Lords today or tomorrow to urge them to vote against the regulations. The Save Lewisham Hospital campaign has put together a detailed list of Lords here, including details of how to contact them by email. If an email is not listed, click on the peer’s name to go to their website, where emails are listed, as well as phone numbers — which is another good way of getting in touch with them, with less than 48 hours to go. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Hunger Strike: Clive Stafford Smith’s Harrowing Account of His Call with Younus Chekhouri

As the prison-wide hunger strike continues at Guantánamo, and even the authorities are admitting that 84 of the remaining 166 prisoners are on hunger strike (edging ever closer to the figure of 130 cited by the prisoners themselves), it remains imperative that those of us who are committed to the closure of the prison continue to publicize the hunger strike, and to maintain pressure on the administration to resolve it — by releasing the 86 prisoners cleared for release, and by initiating objective reviews of 46 others designated for indefinite detention without charge or trial in a executive order issued by President Obama two years ago.

To maintain pressure on the Obama administration, it is crucial that the prisoners’ stories are told, as has been happening over the last few weeks with reports following phone conversations between the prisoners and their lawyers — in the cases of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (see here and here), and also with Samir Moqbel, whose testimony was presented as an op-ed in the New York Times.

These men are all represented by lawyers at Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity founded by Clive Stafford Smith, and below I’m posting Clive’s account of his conversation by phone with another of Reprieve’s client, Younus Chekhouri (also identified as Younous Chekkouri), a Moroccan whose story has long fascinated me, as he has always been one of the most peaceful prisoners in Guantánamo, and has always categorically refuted all the allegations against him that relate to terrorism and military activity. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses the Guantánamo Hunger Strike with Dennis Bernstein and Michael Slate

The hunger strike in Guantánamo, which is now in its 74th day, continues to draw attention, although it is important that everyone who cares about it keeps publicizing the story — and keeps reminding the mainstream media to keep reporting it — or it will be lost in the hysteria emanating from the Boston bombings, which right-wingers, of course, are using to replenish their Islamophobia — one aim of which will be to shut down discussion of Guantánamo, in order to keep the prison open.

As my contribution to keeping the story alive, I’ve been publishing articles about the hunger strike on an almost daily basis, and have also been taking part in as many media appearances as possible. On Monday, after the military had clamped down on the hunger strike with violence last weekend, firing non-lethal rounds and moving the majority of the prisoners into solitary, I received several invitations to take part in TV and radio shows, but all but two fizzled out when the Boston bombing occurred. One of the two was a Canadian radio station, and the other was with Dennis Bernstein on Flashpoints, on KPFA in Berkeley, California.

My interview with Dennis is available here, just three weeks after our last discussion about Guantánamo, and I was pleased to be joined by Candace Gorman, the Chicago-based attorney who represents two Guantánamo prisoners — one still held, and the other freed in 2010 — and Stephanie Tang of the World Can’t Wait. Both are friends, and between us, and with Dennis’s informed interest in the topic, I believe we thoroughly analyzed the dreadful situation that is still unfolding at Guantánamo, and pointed out the urgent necessity for President Obama to take action. Read the rest of this entry »

“It’s Going to End in Men Dying”: Carlos Warner, Guantánamo Attorney, Discusses the Hunger Strike

As the hunger strike continues to rage at Guantánamo, with at least 130 of the remaining 166 prisoners involved, I’m delighted to have the opportunity to cross-post an interview with Carlos Warner, an attorney with the Office of the Federal Defender for the Northern District of Ohio, who represents ten prisoners at Guantánamo — including a number of Yemeni prisoners, a “high-value detainee,” one of the last five Tunisians in Guantánamo, the only Kenyan, and Fayiz al-Kandari, one of the last two Kuwaitis in the prison.

The interview was conducted by my friend The Talking Dog, a New-York based independent journalist who has conducted dozens of interviews with lawyers, journalists and former prisoners over the last eight years — which someone should publish as a book, at some point!

I am enormously grateful to The Talking Dog for putting me up on my generally annual visits to New York to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo, which began as a result of the friendship that we struck up after he interviewed me, back in September 2007, just as my book The Guantánamo Files was being published, and I hope you have time to read and publicize this interview. The hunger strike began because of aggression by the guards and the perceived abuse of the prisoners’ Korans, but as time has gone on, it has become a sustained protest against the men’s indefinite detention, and the fact that, having been abandoned by President Obama, they may die at the prison, even though 86 of them were cleared for release by the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established just after taking office in 2009.

Read the rest of this entry »

Fog, Prison and the Sea: Photos of the Isle of Portland at Night

Weymouth harbourAmanda Jane, WeymouthThe Verne CitadelThe prison in the fogThe Olympic ringsPortland Bill lighthouse
The sea at night by Portland BillPortland Bill: the coast at nightThe Cove House Inn at nightFortuneswell at night

Fog, Prison and the Sea: The Isle of Portland at Night, a set on Flickr.

Last week, I was in Dorset for a four-day holiday with my family, staying in a rather magical, liminal place — Chiswell, a little village on the eastern end of Chesil Beach, on the Isle of Portland.

Chesil Beach is one of the great natural features of the UK, a shingle beach (technically a barrier beach), which is 18 miles long (29 km), 660 feet wide (200 m) and 50 feet (15 m) high, and staying there was a wonderful break from the frenetic, jangling polyrhythms of modern life, one in which the beach, the sea, the sky — and the changing weather patterns — were completely riveting, and pretty much all that was needed for a glimpse of the kind of stripped-down, old-school existence that those of us old enough to recall the pre-mobile, pre-computer age ought to remember, although many seem to have forgotten. Read the rest of this entry »

“Kindness is Better than Greed”: Photos, and a Response to Margaret Thatcher on the Day of Her Funeral

St. Paul's Cathedral at Margaret Thatcher's funeralGuests leave Margaret Thatcher's funeralThe crowd at Margaret Thatcher's funeralThe police at Margaret Thatcher's funeralMaggie True BritThe man in the Margaret Thatcher hat
Kindness is better than greed: A message to Margaret ThatcherDing Dong Welcome to Vomit Pig CityThe Witch is Dead

“Kindness is Better than Greed”: A Response to Margaret Thatcher on the Day of Her Funeral, a set on Flickr.

To paraphrase William Shakespeare, I came to bury Margaret Thatcher, not to praise her. However, due to a hospital appointment, I missed the procession and only arrived at St. Paul’s Cathedral after the funeral service, when the guests were leaving, although I was in time to take a few photos as reminders of the day when the woman was laid to rest who, during my lifetime, did more than any other individual to wreck the country that is my home.

My most fervent hope is that I will live to see Margaret Thatcher’s legacy overturned, and for a caring, inclusive society to replace the one based on greed, selfishness and cruelty that was her malignant gift to the people of Britain.

Since her death last week, I have largely avoided the sickening attempts by the Tories to use it for political gain, although I was absolutely delighted that their insistence on providing a lavish funeral at taxpayers’ expense backfired, because only 25 percent of the public thought that a state funeral was appropriate, and 60 percent opposed it. Read the rest of this entry »

“People Are Dying Here,” Shaker Aamer Reports from Guantánamo, As Petition Calling for His Release Secures 100,000 Signatures

Please write urgent emails calling for the return of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo to foreign secretary William Hague and to Alistair Burt, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Supporters are also encouraged to sign the international petition for Shaker on the Care 2 Petition Site.

Last Friday was a great day for campaigning in the UK, as the hard work of numerous activists resulted in success for an e-petition to the British government that was launched a year ago. The petition, which called on the British government to “undertake urgent new initiatives to achieve the immediate transfer of Shaker Aamer to the UK from continuing indefinite detention in Guantánamo Bay,” secured 100,000 signatures, making it eligible for a Parliamentary debate. Shaker is the last British resident still held in Guantánamo, and has been held for over 11 years, while his family waits patiently for his return in south London.

On the e-petition (which currently has over 110,000 signatures, and can be signed until April 20), the government department dealing with it notes, “As this e-petition has received more than 100 000 signatures, on 15 April 2013 the Leader of the House of Commons passed this petition to the House of Commons Backbench Business Committee to consider for debate.” Further information about the Committee, including how they handle e-petitions, can be found here.

It is to be hoped that the government will not try to worm their way out of discussing Shaker’s case in Parliament, as it is intolerable that he has not yet been returned to his family, given that he was cleared for release under President Bush in 2007, and again under President Obama in 2009. Read the rest of this entry »

A Voice from Guantánamo: Samir Moqbel, a Hunger Striker Brutally Force-Fed Every Day

With the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo now in its third month, it is encouraging that so much of the mainstream media is paying close attention to the story, maintaining pressure on the Obama administration to do something about it — most obviously by securing the release of the 86 men (out of 166 in total), who were cleared for release by an inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established when he took office in 2009, just after he had issued his executive order promising to close the prison within a year.

Despite that promise, the men have actually been abandoned by all three branches of the US government. President Obama bears huge responsibility, for having imposed a blanket ban, three years ago, on releasing any cleared Yemenis, in the wake of a failed bomb plot that originated in Yemen, and Congress has also imposed almost insurmountable restrictions on the release of prisoners.

The hunger strike seems to have pricked the conscience of the mainstream media, who, for the most part, had lost interest in Guantánamo and the men abandoned by President Obama and used as pawns in a cynical political game by Congress, and I’m relieved that this is the case, because I believe that only sustained pressure — both domestic and international — can persuade President Obama and lawmakers to wake up to the horrors of their indifference and their cynicism. Read the rest of this entry »

A Rainy Easter: Photos of Chesil Beach in Dorset

West Weares from Chesil BeachChesil Beach looking westFortuneswell from Chesil BeachThe end of the sea wallThe rocks of West WearesChesil Cove and the sea wall
Chesil Cove sea wallStones on Chesil BeachFishing boats on Chesil BeachFortuneswell as the mist descendsWest Weares in the mistSky, sea and beach

A Rainy Easter: Chesil Beach in Dorset, a set on Flickr.

My apologies, to those of you who have been following my photographic projects, for the unexplained hiatus over the last few weeks. To explain briefly, I ran into two problems.

Firstly, I found myself rather overwhelmed by the number of photos I’ve taken of London since last July — over 10,000 in total, of which I’ve only managed to publish around 1,700 here. I decided that I needed to stand back from my project to record the whole of London by bike, which I began last May, and to take stock of what I have achieved so far. As a result, I have begun organising my photos by area, with the intention of organising some exhibitions and also publishing some photos in various forms, which I’ll let you know about as soon as they materialise. 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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