Archive for May, 2013

From Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer Tells BBC He Is “Falling Apart Like An Old Car”

On Guantánamo, despite President Obama’s fine words at a news conference a month ago, and in a major speech on national security last week, we wait and we wait and still nothing happens.

Eight days after he promised to resume releasing prisoners, not one of the 86 prisoners cleared for release over three years ago by the President’s own interagency task force has been freed, and the hunger strike that has been raging for nearly four months shows no sign of slowing. I believe that only the release of prisoners will do that, and yet no one has been released in the last week, even though President Obama can use a waiver in the National Defense Authorization Act to do so, bypassing Congress, which has imposed hideous restrictions on the release of prisoners.

As I explained in an article published here yesterday:

Congress imposed restrictions in the National Defense Authorization Acts of 2012 and 2013, preventing the release of prisoners to countries where even a single released prisoner is alleged to have “returned to the battlefield,” and also insisted that, in other cases, the Secretary of Defense would have to certify that any prisoner the government intended to release would not be able to engage in anti-American activities — a requirement that appears to be impossible to fulfil.

To overcome these obstacles, however, a waiver was included in the legislation, which allows the President and the Secretary of Defense to bypass Congress if they regard it as being “in the national security interests of the United States.” Read the rest of this entry »

Close Guantánamo, Free the Afghans

In the coverage of the ongoing, prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, which is now in its fourth month, there has been widespread recognition that it is unacceptable to indefinitely detain the 86 prisoners (out of 166 in total) who were cleared for release over three years ago by the President’s own inter-agency task force. These men are still held because of Presidential inertia, Congressional obstruction, and the failures of some branches of the US judiciary to uphold justice.

56 of these 86 men are Yemenis, and, in some quarters, it has also been accepted that the ban President Obama imposed on releasing cleared Yemenis from Guantánamo, following a failed airline bomb plot on Christmas Day 2009 that was hatched in Yemen, constitutes collective punishment, and is also fundamentally unacceptable because it means that prisoners whose release was recommended by the President’s own task force continue to be detained not because of what they have done, but because of what they might do in future.

Of the 30 others, however, there has been little or no discussion beyond a recognition that one of them, Shaker Aamer, a British resident with a British wife and four British children, could and should be released immediately.

Around a dozen of these 30 men cannot be repatriated, as they are from countries to which it is not safe to return — China, for example, in the case of the three remaining Uighur prisoners (Muslims from Xinjiang province who face government persecution), and war-torn Syria, which has four cleared prisoners. Read the rest of this entry »

Please Support the International Day of Action for Bradley Manning on Saturday June 1, 2013

On Monday (June 3), three years and one week since he was first arrested in Kuwait, the trial by court-martial begins, at Fort Meade in Maryland, of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the alleged whistleblower responsible for making available — to the campaigning organization WikiLeaks — the largest collection of classified documents ever leaked to the public, including the “Collateral Murder” video, featuring US personnel indiscriminately killing civilians and two Reuters reporters in Iraq, 500,000 army reports (the Afghan War logs and the Iraq War logs), 250,000 US diplomatic cables, and the classified military files relating to the Guantánamo prisoners, which were released in April 2011, and on which I worked as a media partner (see here for the first 34 parts of my 70-part, million-word series analyzing the Guantánamo files).

To highlight what the Bradley Manning Support Network describes as a trial that “will determine whether a conscience-driven 25-year-old WikiLeaks whistle-blower spends the rest of his life in prison,” an international day of action is taking place on Saturday, June 1. See here for a full list of events worldwide.

At Fort Meade, the day of action will begin at 1pm — see the website here, and sign up on the Facebook page. There will be speakers at 1.30pm, a march at 2pm, and more speakers at 3pm. Speakers “include Daniel Ellsberg, Pentagon Papers whistleblower; Ethan McCord, the soldier who saved the children attacked in the ‘Collateral Murder’ video released by WikiLeaks; Col. Ann Wright, the most senior State Department official to resign in protest of the Iraq war; Sarah Shourd, hiker imprisoned by Iran turned prisoner rights activist; and Lt. Dan Choi, prominent anti-Don’t Ask Don’t Tell activist featured on the Rachel Maddow show.” Read the rest of this entry »

For My Guantánamo Work, I’ve Been Short-Listed for the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism

I’m delighted to report that, in recognition of my work on Guantánamo and the “war on terror” over the last seven years (including being the lead writer on the sections of a report on secret detention for the United Nations in 2010 dealing with US secret detention since 9/11, and being a media partner of WikiLeaks for the release of classified military files from Guantánamo in 2011), I’ve been short-listed for the prestigious Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, dedicated to the memory of Martha Gellhorn (1908-1998), one of the great war correspondents of the 20th century.

The prize was established in 1999, and previous winners include Nick Davies, Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, Dahr Jamail, Mohammed Omer, Ian Cobain, Julian Assange and Gareth Porter.

As noted by the Committee (James Fox, Jeremy Harding, Cynthia Kee, Alexander Matthews, Shirlee Matthews and John Pilger), the prize is “awarded to a journalist whose work has penetrated the established version of events and told an unpalatable truth, validated by powerful facts, that exposes establishment propaganda, or ‘official drivel’ as Martha Gellhorn called it.” Read the rest of this entry »

Why We at “Close Guantánamo” Have Cautious Optimism Regarding President Obama’s Plans for the Prison

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 cautiously optimistic about the release of prisoners in the months to come, following promises made by President Obama in a major speech on national security on Thursday.

On Guantánamo, the President made three particular promises.

He said, “I am appointing a new, senior envoy at the State Department and Defense Department whose sole responsibility will be to achieve the transfer of detainees to third countries. I am lifting the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, so we can review them on a case by case basis. To the greatest extent possible, we will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries.”

We’ve all heard fine words from the President before — when he was running for President, and when he took office in January 2009. On his second day in office, of course, he issued an executive order in which he promised to close Guantánamo within a year. Then, of course, uncomfortable realities arose. The President encountered political opposition, from Republicans and from members of his own party. His close advisers told him the effort to close the prison was not electorally worth the expenditure of political capital. Read the rest of this entry »

On Guantánamo, the Three Steps Obama Needs to Take Now

Late on Friday evening, RT published an article I had been commissioned to write for them, entitled, “In Guantánamo, fine words are no substitute for freedom.” In it, I examined in detail the parts of President Obama’s national security speech on Thursday that dealt with the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where a prison-wide hunger strike has been raging for nearly four months.

The 166 men still held are expressing their despair at having been abandoned by all three branches of the US government — by President Obama and his administration, by Congress and by the judiciary, and for good reason — 86 of these men were cleared for release three years ago by an inter-agency task force that President Obama established when he took office in 2009, and most of the 80 others would be entirely justified in concluding that, in their cases, justice has gone AWOL.

A month ago, President Obama finally broke his silence on Guantánamo to deliver an eloquent speech at a news conference in which he explained why Guantánamo is such an abomination, but shied away from acknowledging his own part in the failure to close the prison, as he promised when he took office in 2009, and put the blame solely on Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

Obama on Guantánamo: Yemeni Ban Lifted, Prisoners to Be Released

Today, at the National Defense University at Fort McNair, President Obama delivered a major speech on national security issues. I leave it to some of my esteemed colleagues to analyze everything apart from the final section of the speech, in which the President spoke about “the detention of terrorist suspects,” with specific reference to my particular area of expertise, the lamentable “war on terror” prison that still exists at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

166 men are still held at Guantánamo, even though 86 of them were cleared for release over three years ago by an interagency task force established by President Obama when he took office in 2009. Failed by all three branches of the US government, the prisoners embarked on a prison-wide hunger strike on February 6, 2013, and it is the unprecedented global response to this hunger strike — domestically and globally — that provoked President Obama to rouse himself from his indifference — or, at best, his refusal to expend political capital on an issue that was not a vote-winner — and make concrete plans for revisiting his failed promise to close the prison, which he made on his first day in office.

Eloquent as ever, he called the prison at Guantánamo Bay “a facility that should never have been opened,” and responded to the tsunami of complaints over the last few months — from Sen. Carl Levin, Sen. Dianne Fenstein, the UN, the ICRC, the European Parliament, the liberal and establishment US media, the more than 215,000 signatories to a Change.org petition, and the more than 560,000 signatories to an Avaaz petition that was launched just yesterday — by apparently meeting two key demands, and hinting at action on a third. Read the rest of this entry »

As Guantánamo Prisoners Send Pleas to President Obama, Media Reports Plans To Free 86 Men Long Cleared for Release

As President Obama prepares to make a major speech on national security issues at the National Defense University — including his plans for Guantánamo, where a prison-wide hunger strike has been raging for over three months — the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, whose lawyers represent 15 of the remaining 166 prisoners at Guantánamo, has today publicized messages for the President from three of the men calling for urgent action to release prisoners and take steps towards the necessary closure of the prison, in unclassified notes of meetings and phone calls with their lawyers. The three are amongst the 86 prisoners cleared for release at least three years ago by an inter-agency task force established by President Obama when he took office in January 2009 but still held because of Obama’s own inertia, and obstruction by Congress and the courts.

Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, whose reports from the hunger strike are here, here, here and here, said to the President, “You need to hand over the 86 people who have been cleared,” adding, “In the end this place has no solution except close it down.”

Reprieve added that Aamer is “among the approximately 140 detainees in the prison on hunger strike” — a higher count than the 130 regularly cited by lawyers for the prisoners — and also pointed out that the UK government “has repeatedly said that they want [him] returned to his family in London.” Read the rest of this entry »

Close Guantánamo: Hundreds of Thousands of People Sign Avaaz Petition Calling for Action from President Obama

Please sign the Avaaz petition calling for the closure of Guantánamo!

Just hours before President Obama delivers a major speech on national security at the National Defense University, in which he will discuss the drone program and will also lay out his plans for Guantánamo, an international petition calling for the prison’s closure, launched by Avaaz, has secured over 400,000 signatures in just one day.

The petition calls on President Obama “to appoint a White House official whose responsibility it is to close down the prison, and to use the authority granted to you by the US Congress to immediately transfer the 86 men who have been cleared,” which is exactly the message that is required, so please, if you haven’t already signed it, do so now, and then circulate it to everyone you know.

For the first time since a prison-wide hunger strike began over three months ago, President Obama spoke about Guantánamo at a news conference three weeks ago, promising to tackle Congress, where lawmakers have passed legislation designed to prevent the release of prisoners and the closure of the prison, but refusing to acknowledge his own role in preventing the release of any of the 56 Yemeni prisoners, out of 86 prisoners cleared for release by his own inter-agency task force, and failing to mention that a waiver exists in the legislation relating to Guantánamo (the National Defense Authorization Act) that allows him to bypass Congress if he regards it as being “in the national security interests of the United States.” Read the rest of this entry »

European Parliament to Debate Motion Calling for Closure of Guantánamo

Tomorrow, just before President Obama delivers a major speech on national security issues — including his policy on Guantánamo, still gripped by a prison-wide hunger strike by men in despair at ever being released or receiving justice — the European Parliament will be discussing and voting on a resolution reiterating previous calls for President Obama to close Guantánamo as he promised when he took office in January 2009.

Delayed from last month, this arrives at a perfect time, reminding President Obama that his obligations towards the men abandoned at Guantánamo — by all three branches of the US government over the last three years — are not just a domestic matter, but an international one, and that further delays in addressing the complaints of the hunger strikers are unconscionable.

In brief, 86 of the 166 men still held were cleared for release over three years ago by an inter-agency task force established by President Obama when he took office; 46 others were consigned to indefinite detention without charge or trial by President Obama in an executive order two years ago, when they were promised periodic reviews of their cases that have not taken place; and the rest were supposed to be put on trial, although only six have been charged. All the men, therefore, have legitimate reasons for feeling abandoned by their jailers, and for seeking immediate action to secure their release, a review of their cases, or fair trials. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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