Archive for May, 2013

Guantánamo Hunger Strike: Obama Administration Hints at Progress on Releasing Yemenis

100 days after the majority of the remaining 166 prisoners in Guantánamo embarked on a hunger strike, and after a weekend of actions in the US, the UK and elsewhere to highlight the continuing injustice of the prison, the world is waiting — again — to hear from President Obama.

As news of the hunger strike filtered out of the prison in late February, and, throughout March, spread like wildfire throughout the world’s media, attracting criticism of the administration from the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations, as well as critical coverage in the US, President Obama remained silent.

Three weeks ago, President Obama finally broke his silence, delivering a speech at a news conference in which, as I explained here, he eloquently explained why Guantánamo is such an abomination, but failed to accept his own responsibility for the prison’s continued existence, blaming Congress and claiming that all he could do was to go back to lawmakers to seek their cooperation.

Whilst it is certainly true that lawmakers have raised huge obstacles to prevent the release of prisoners and the closure of the prison, it is also true that President Obama personally imposed a ban on releasing any of the cleared Yemenis who make up 56 of the 86 men still held whose release was recommended by the President’s own inter-agency task force back in January 2010, following a failed airline bomb plot on Christmas Day 2009, which was hatched in Yemen. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: 100 Days of the Guantánamo Hunger Strike – Andy Worthington Speaks to RT and Press TV, as Global Actions Take Place

On the 100th day of the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, please ask the US authorities to free prisoners and take concrete steps towards finally closing the prison. Call the White House (202-456-1111, 202-456-1414), US Southern Command (305-437-1213) and the Department of Defense (703-571-3343). You can say, “I support closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay. President Obama can and should resume transfers, today, for the 86 cleared prisoners who are still held. Indefinite detention without charge or trial is a human rights violation.” You can also call or e-mail your congressperson and senator to ask them to support swift executive action to close Guantánamo, and you can also send a letter to a prisoner.

To mark 100 days of the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, events are — or have been — taking place in the US, the UK and worldwide, involving, amongst others, my friends and colleagues in Witness Against Torture, Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, World Can’t Wait and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture in the US, and the London Guantánamo Campaign and the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign in the UK.

In the US, the various groups delivered petitions to the White House containing over 370,000 signatures, including, in particular, the petition on Change.org initiated by Col. Morris Davis, which currently has over 200,000 signatures, and is still ongoing. In London, campaigners will be performing street theatre outside the US Embassy tomorrow (Saturday May 18) at 2pm. For further information, including other actions you can engage in, see the Witness Against Torture website, and Amnesty International’s Facebook page. Also see the video for “Hunger Strike Song” by the Peace Poets and Witness Against Torture.

Following the action in Washington D.C., the National Religious Campaign Against Torture sent out a press release, in which executive director Rev. Richard Killmer stated, “Years of detention without charge or trial have created a sense of desperation and hopelessness among the men at Guantánamo, which has led over 100 of them to join a hunger strike. The human crisis in Guantánamo is a moral one that needs to end immediately. The faith community calls on the President to close Guantánamo. It is the right thing to do.” Read the rest of this entry »

Defend London’s NHS Protest on May 18 Coincides with Savage Cuts and Possible Collapse of A&E Departments

Please attend the march at 12 noon on Saturday May 18, 2013, from Jubilee Gardens (on Concert Hall Approach near the South Bank Centre) to Whitehall, where there will be a rally outside Downing Street at 2pm. The marchers will cross Waterloo Bridge and walk up The Strand to Whitehall, and NHS campaigners, politicians and union representatives will address the crowd from an open-topped bus. See the Facebook page here and the website here.

The irony could hardly be starker. Across London, and countrywide, cuts begun under the Labour government and aggressively continued under the Tories are wreaking havoc on the NHS. Nor it is only politicians who are to blame, as the cuts are enthusiastically endorsed by senior NHS officials.

As I have been reporting here since October, when plans to disembowel Lewisham Hospital were first announced, across the capital A&E Departments face closure or downgrading, even though the need for them has never been greater. In addition, the closure or downgrading of A&E will have a horrendous knock-on effect for the millions of people affected — as frontline services also close, and, to give just one example, maternity services are cut savagely, as only births regarded as safe can take place in hospitals without emergency services.

This is what is planned for Lewisham, where the recently refurbished A&E Department is to be closed, leaving just one A&E Department, at the distant and already overstretched Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich, to deal with the 750,000 inhabitants of three London boroughs — Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley — including, of course, babies and children as well as adults. Read the rest of this entry »

Closing Guantánamo: Obama Administration Responds to Calls for Action by Carl Levin, Harold Koh and 200,000 Concerned Citizens

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.

As the prison-wide hunger strike continues at Guantánamo, one of the key demands of campaigners — including myself and Tom Wilner, here at “Close Guantánamo” — has been for President Obama to appoint an official to oversee the closure of the prison, to replace Daniel Fried, the State Department official who oversaw the release of dozens of prisoners in 2009 and 2010, before Congress — and the President himself — raised obstacles to the release of prisoners.

Fried was reassigned in January this year, and no one was appointed to take his place, a message that was easily interpreted as a sign that President Obama and his administration had decided that the closure of Guantánamo was no longer a priority.

Yesterday, however, Attorney General Eric Holder told a news conference that, as Reuters reported it, the government “intends to revive a vacant position coordinating policy” for the prison at Guantánamo Bay. “We’re in the process of working on that now. We’re looking at candidates,” Holder told a news conference. Read the rest of this entry »

“Torture is for Torture, the System is for the System”: Shaker Aamer’s Letters from Guantánamo

Please sign and share the petition on Change.org urging renewed action from President Obama to close Guantánamo, which now has over 200,000 signatures! Also please show your support for Shaker Aamer, if you can, by joining the protest outside Parliament from 12 noon to 3pm every weekday this week, and also next Monday and Tuesday (May 20-21), organised by the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign. Also please note that, to mark the 100th day of the hunger strike, Witness Against Torture and other activists will be handing in the Change.org petition (and other petitions) to the White House at noon on May 17, and the London Guantánamo Campaign is staging a street theatre action outside the US Embassy at 2pm on Saturday May 18 (see the Facebook page)Please also sign the international petition to the British and American governments calling for Shaker’s release.

The quote in the title of this article is from 1984 (aka Nineteen Eighty-Four), George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece, published in June 1949, which Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, described as being “probably the book I’ve read more than any other but the Holy Koran” in a recent letter to his family from Guantánamo.

I recently wrote about the latest developments — or the lack of them — in Shaker’s case, which continues to be a transatlantic game of political football, in which responsibility for his continued detention, six years after he was first cleared for release, is bounced from Washington to London and back with no regard for Shaker’s ongoing suffering or the injustice of holding a man who has long been cleared for release.

Shaker’s suffering — and the injustice of holding a man long cleared for release — are part of a much bigger story, of course, in which a prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, involving the majority of the 166 prisoners still held, is now in its fourth month, and 85 of those men — in addition to Shaker — are also being held despite being cleared for release, through inaction on the part of President Obama and obstruction in Congress, all of which can be overcome if the political will exists. Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer, Abandoned in Guantánamo

Please sign and share the petition on Change.org urging renewed action from President Obama to close Guantánamo, which now has over 200,000 signatures! Also please show your support for Shaker Aamer, if you can, by joining the protest outside Parliament from 12 noon to 3pm every weekday this week, and also next Monday and Tuesday (May 20-21), organised by the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign. Also please note that, to mark the 100th day of the hunger strike, Witness Against Torture and other activists will be handing in the Change.org petition (and other petitions) to the White House at noon on May 17, and the London Guantánamo Campaign is staging a street theatre action outside the US Embassy at 2pm on Saturday May 18 (see the Facebook page)Please also sign the international petition to the British and American governments calling for Shaker’s release.

Although the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo is still raging, and President Obama spoke eloquently last week about the need for the prison to be closed, it remains painfully true that, for the 86 prisoners (out of 166 in total), who were cleared for release by an inter-agency task force that President Obama established in 2009, there is still no easy route out.

The case of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, ought to be the easiest to resolve. One of the 86, his return has regularly been requested since August 2007 by the British government, and the legislative obstacles raised by Congress to prevent the release of prisoners to countries they regard as dangerous doesn’t apply in Shaker’s case — the UK, after all, where his wife and children live, and are all British citizens, is America’s staunchest ally in the “war on terror,” and more than capable of keeping Shaker under surveillance if that were to be requested.

In the UK, pressure has been mounting for Shaker’s release. Last month, a petition to the British government, calling for renewed action to get him released, secured the 100,000 signatures necessary to trigger a Parliamentary debate (see here and here for the transcript), and it is to be hoped that a full Parliamentary debate will follow later this month or in June. Read the rest of this entry »

Solitary Confinement is Torture and is Official US Policy: Supermax Film Premieres in London, April 16

No one who has spent any time studying and writing about Guantánamo, as I have, could fail to realize that, although the terrible innovation of Guantánamo is indefinite detention without charge or trial, its orange jumpsuits, and the perceived normality of solitary confinement as standard operating procedure, arrived at the prison directly from America’s domestic prison system — where there are 2.2 million prisoners (and almost 7 million people under correctional supervision (including probation and parole), and up to 100,000 prisoners are subjected to solitary confinement at any one time. Most harrowingly, many thousands of these prisoners are subjected to solitary confinement not as occasional punishment, but as a policy, and have spent years, or even decades without any human contact.

As Kevin Gosztola explained in July 2011, in an article for FireDogLake, “40 states and the federal government have supermax prisons holding upwards of 25,000 inmates. Tens of thousands more are held in solitary confinement in lockdown units within other prisons and jails. There’s no up-to-date nationwide count, but according to best estimates, there are at least 75,000 and perhaps more than 100,000 prisoners in solitary confinement on any given day in America.”

Over the years, I have endeavored to cover the horrors of solitary confinement in America’s prisons. In December 2010, I joined a call for a worldwide ban on the use of solitary confinement, and in 2011 I covered the hunger strikes that began in California’s notorious Pelican Bay facility — see here, here, here and here. I also cross-posted a hugely important article about long-term solitary confinement, “Hellhole,” written by Atul Gawande for the New Yorker in 2009, and in 2012 reported on calls by Professor Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, for an end to the use of solitary confinement, and an appeal to the UN by Pelican Bay prisoners. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: A Year of Protest – The NHS, Disabled Rights, Guantánamo, Bradley Manning and the Occupy Movement

OccupyPeople Before Profit: An Occupy protestor at the Bank of EnglandStudents against AtosDisabled. Socialist. Artist. I'm screwed.I was saved by Lewisham HospitalSave Lewisham Hospital: A child protests
Close Guantánamo: Protestors outside the US Supreme CourtInaugurate Justice, Close GuantánamoClose GuantánamoCode PinkProud to be born in Lewisham HospitalTriplets born at Lewisham Hospital
Free Shaker Aamer from GuantánamoSave the NHS from the profiteersRoses are red, Violets are blue, We need our A&Es kept open by youThe family born in Lewisham HospitalLocal rapper Question at "Born in Lewisham" protestNHS campaigners call for the government to drop NHS privatisation plans
A "die-in" for the NHS, on the road in front of ParliamentAndy Worthington and Jean Lambert with Shaker Aamer's childrenShaker Aamer: where's the justice?Need Not Greed: Save the NHSVivienne Westwood at "WikiLeaks: The Bradley Manning Story," London, May 8, 2013Julian Assange at "WikiLeaks: The Bradley Manning Story," London, May 8, 2013

A Year of Protest – The NHS, Disabled Rights, Guantánamo, Bradley Manning and the Occupy Movement, a set on Flickr.

A year ago yesterday, I embarked on a huge and ongoing project — to photograph the whole of London by bike. A year and a day later, I have taken around 13,000 photos, and have published nearly 1,700 on Flickr. As it happens, my time has been so consumed of late with my ongoing campaign to close Guantánamo — where the prison-wide hunger strike, now in its fourth month, has finally awoken the world to the ongoing horrors of the prison — that I have not had time recently to publish photos from this project, although I have continued to take photos on an almost daily basis. I am currently organising the photos by area — largely, in fact, by postcode — as I work out how best to show them and to market them, but to mark the anniversary I will soon be posting a selection of photos from the first year of the project – and if anyone has any good ideas abut how to take tis project forward, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.

In the meantime, I realised that today — May 12 — is the first anniversary of an event organised by the worldwide Occupy movement (inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York), and that I had photographed the event that took place in London, and so, to coincide with that anniversary, I’ve put together a selection off photos from the various political campaigns and protests I’ve been involved in over the last year. Read the rest of this entry »

Close Guantánamo: President Obama, Drop Your Ban on Releasing Yemenis

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.

Also please sign and share the petition on Change.org urging renewed action from President Obama to close Guantánamo, which now has nearly 200,000 signatures!

As the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo begins its fourth month, we at “Close Guantánamo” are concerned that men will die unless President Obama follows up on his fine words last week with actions to match his understanding of why the prison’s continued existence is so wrong. As he said, it is “critical for us to understand that Guantánamo is not necessary to keep America safe. It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counter-terrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.”

To close Guantánamo, as we have been urging, the President needs to do three particular things:

  1. To appoint a high-level official to deal specifically with the prison’s closure;
  2. To drop his ban on releasing the Yemenis who make up two-thirds of the 86 prisoners cleared for release by the President ‘s own inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, which he imposed in January 2010 after the arrest of the Yemen-trained would-be plane bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab;
  3. Either to tackle Congress regarding the imposition of obstacles preventing the release of prisoners, or to use the waiver in the legislation (the National Defense Authorization Act) that allows him to bypass Congress if he regards it as being in America’s best interests.

Bringing the appalling injustice of Guantánamo to an end is, we believe, very much in America’s best interests. Read the rest of this entry »

From Guantánamo, Younus Chekhouri Speaks About the Prison Clampdown: “Everyone is Traumatized by What Happened”

Three weeks ago, as part of my ongoing coverage of the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, which is now in its fourth month, I published an account by Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, with one of the men that Reprieve’s lawyers represent in Guantánamo — Younus Chekhouri (also identified as Younous Chekkouri), a Moroccan, a Sufi Muslim, and one of the 86 prisoners cleared for release from Guantánamo as a result of the deliberations of a task force appointed by President Obama in 2009.

As I explained at the time, Younus’s 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.” I also explained how “I found his testimony from Guantánamo, in the tribunals and review boards that took place under President Bush, to be both compelling and credible.”

Below is the description of him that I included in a series of articles about the remaining prisoners in Guantánamo back in 2010, which I posted previously but am posting again because it explains who he is, rather than who the US authorities thought he was:

Chekhouri is accused of being a founder member of the Moroccan Islamic Fighting Group (or GICM, the Groupe Islamique Combattant Marocain), who had a training camp near Kabul, but he has always maintained that he traveled to Afghanistan in 2001, with his Algerian wife, after six years in Pakistan, where he had first traveled in search of work and education, and has stated that they lived on the outskirts of Kabul, working for a charity that ran a guest house and helped young Moroccan immigrants, and had no involvement whatsoever in the country’s conflicts. He has also repeatedly explained that he was profoundly disillusioned by the fighting amongst Muslims that has plagued Afghanistan’s recent history, and he has also expressed his implacable opposition to the havoc wreaked on the country by Osama bin Laden, describing him as “a crazy person,” and adding that “what he does is bad for Islam.” 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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