Several months ago, I responded to a request to attend the annual “Independence From America” protest on July 4, the American Day of Independence, outside RAF Menwith Hill near Harrogate in Yorkshire. The event is organised by the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases (CAAB), and I was invited by Lindis Percy, a veteran activist who has been arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned on numerous occasions, to speak about Guantánamo. I was, of course, delighted to accept the invitation, and I look forward to the brief return to my roots, as I grew up in the north of England.
The protest will be from 5 to 9 pm, and other speakers are Salma Yaqoob, psychotherapist, Chair of Birmingham Stop the War and a spokesperson for Birmingham Central Mosque, and the journalist Martin Wainwright of the Guardian. Other guests include Mizan the Poet, the folk singers Ziggurat, and the East Lancs Clarion Choir, “Quaker Walkers celebrating 100 years of the Northern Friends Peace Board,” and there will also be a drumming workshop with Steve Hill of the Daftasadrum Drum Circle group.
At the time I accepted the invitation, none of us knew how the existence of an alarmingly overreaching surveillance state would be in the news at the time of the protest, as a result of the revelations of the US whistleblower Edward Snowden, because there are few places that symbolize this problem as powerfully as Menwith Hill. Nominally an RAF station that provides communications and intelligence support services to the UK and the US, it has actually been controlled by America since its establishment in 1954, and has been in the control of the NSA (the National Security Agency, the organisation at the heart of Snowden’s complaints) since 1966. Read the rest of this entry »
In preventing the release of prisoners from Guantánamo, all three branches of the US government are responsible. President Obama promised to close the prison within a year of taking office, but he lacked a concrete plan, and soon caved in to criticism, blocking a plan by White House counsel Greg Craig to bring some cleared prisoners who couldn’t be safely repatriated — the Uighurs, Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province — to live in the US, and imposing a ban on releasing all Yemenis after it was discovered that a failed plot to blow up a plane bound for the US on Christmas Day 2009 was hatched in Yemen.
Congress, in turn, imposed ban on bringing prisoners to the US mainland, and, in the last two versions of the National Defense Authorization Act, a ban on releasing prisoners to any country where even a single released prisoner has allegedly engaged in recidivism (returning to the battlefield), and a requirement that, if a prisoner were to be released, the Secretary of Defense would have to certify that they would not be able, in future, to engage in any terrorist activities — a requirement that appears to be impossible to fulfill.
Largely overlooked has been the responsibility of the judiciary — and specifically, the Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. (the D.C. Circuit Court), and the Supreme Court, but their role in keeping men at Guantánamo is also crucial.
Nine years ago, in June 2004, in Rasul v. Bush, the Supreme Court granted the prisoners habeas corpus rights, a momentous ruling that pierced the veil of secrecy that had allowed the Bush administration to establish a torture regime at Guantánamo, and also allowed the prisoners to be represented by lawyers, who were allowed to visit them. Read the rest of this entry »
On Thursday, I took part in a fascinating conversation on Voice of Russia about Edward Snowden, the role of whistleblowers and the surveillance state. The discussion was entitled, “How far can politicians go to protect our security?” and I was with Brendan Cole in London, while, in Moscow, Dmitry Medvedenko’s guest was Dr. Boris Martynov, Deputy Head of the Institute of Latin America in Moscow, and in Washington Rob Sachs’ guest was Bruce Zagaris, a partner with Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe LLP.
The 40-minute show is available here, and in it I made a particular point of explaining how far too much of the mainstream media is obsessively focusing on Edward Snowden’s search for asylum, rather than focusing on the aspect of the story that is much more significant — the fact, as I put it, that “he felt compelled to sacrifice his career because he wanted to reveal the extent that people were being spied on by their governments.”
I also explained why that is so important — because, instead of governments regarding their citizens as “innocent until proven guilty,” they have revealed themselves — with America in the driving seat — as “massively obsessed with trawling for information about all of us,” and having “an obsession with power and a sense of paranoia that is very inappropriate.” Read the rest of this entry »
A few days ago, I was delighted to talk to Scott Horton, who I’ve been talking to, on a regular basis, for nearly six years, about the ongoing horrors of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, which, in a few weeks’ time, will have been open for its appalling business of arbitrary detention and torture for eleven and a half years. The half-hour interview is available here as an MP3.
In the show, Scott and I discussed the hunger strike at Guantánamo, now on its 143rd day, in which 106 of the remaining 166 prisoners (by the military’s own account) are on hunger strike, and 44 are being force-fed.
As I always explain, although it is horrible that men are being force-fed, which medical experts regard as a form of torture, this should not distract us from the reasons that the men are starving themselves and risking their lives — because they have reached a point of despairing at ever being released or provided with anything resembling justice, and with good reason.
Over half of the 166 men still held — 86 in total — have been cleared for release for at least three and a half years, after the inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, established by President Obama when he took office, issued its report recommending whether the prisoners should be released, prosecuted or held indefinitely without charge or trial — recommendations that, just two weeks ago, through FOIA legislation, were finally accompanied by a full list of the prisoners and which categories they had been placed in by the task force, which I wrote about in my article, “The Guantánamo Review Task Force’s Decisions on Who to Release, Try and Hold Indefinitely Are Finally Released.” Read the rest of this entry »
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 see our updated Guantánamo prisoner list here, which now, for the first time, provides the status of all of the remaining 166 prisoners, based on the “Final Dispositions” of President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force (dated January 22, 2010, but only made publicly available on June 17, 2013) indicating whether they have been cleared for release, whether they have been designated for indefinite detention without charge or trial, and whether they were recommended for prosecution.
On June 17, 2013, through FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) legislation, a long-standing mystery was solved — the identities of the Guantánamo prisoners recommended for trial, for indefinite detention and for “conditional detention” by the inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established after taking office in January 2009 — when the task force’s “Final Dispositions as of January 22, 2010″ were released by the Department of Justice.
The “Final Dispositions” document contains the names of 240 prisoners, one short of the total number of prisoners held when the the task force began its deliberations — that extra prisoner being Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, who was convicted after a one-sided trial by military commission in November 2008, at which he refused to mount a defense, and given a life sentence.
Of those 240, the task force, in its final report in January 2010, recommended 156 for release, 36 for trials and 48 for indefinite detention without charge or trial, but did not reveal which prisoners were assigned to the various categories.
71 were subsequently released, and three died, leaving 166 men still held. Read the rest of this entry »
As today is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, initiated by the United Nations in 1997, on the 10th anniversary of the the day that the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into force, I’d like to take this opportunity to promote a newly released half-hour documentary film, “Culture of Impunity,” for which I was interviewed along with the law professor and author Marjorie Cohn, the professor, author and filmmaker Saul Landau, the author and activist David Swanson, Laura Pitter of Human Rights Watch, and Stephen Rohde of the ACLU.
The film, the first of a two-part documentary (with the second part to follow later in the year) was produced by Alternate Focus, which describes itself as “working for peace and justice by offering the American public media which shows another side of Middle Eastern issues,” and I was interviewed for it in April.
Dealing with the illegal invasion of Iraq, the establishment of Guantánamo, “extraordinary rendition,” CIA “black sites,” America’s secret torture program, and the guilt of those responsible for initiating the war, the arbitrary detention and the torture — including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice — the film also covers the case of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, who I spoke about. Read the rest of this entry »
Tomorrow (Wednesday June 26) is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, established by the United Nations in 1997 to mark the 10th anniversary of the day that the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into force.
I have been marking this day since 2007 — also see my reports from 2009, 2010 (and here), 2011 and 2012 — and this year I note that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Member States “to step up efforts to assist all those who have suffered from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
He added, “This year is also the 25th anniversary of the Committee against Torture. This body — along with other UN human rights mechanisms such as the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and the Special Rapporteur on Torture — is vital to strengthening a victim-oriented approach that also includes a gender perspective. This effort was further strengthened by the adoption this year of a UN Human Rights Council resolution focussing on the rehabilitation of torture victims.”
He also stated, “I urge all Member States to accede to and fully implement the Convention against Torture and support the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture. Let us work together to end torture throughout the world and ensure that countries provide reparation for victims.” Read the rest of this entry »
In a desperate message from Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, told one of his lawyers by phone, “The administration is getting ever more angry and doing everything they can to break our hunger strike. Honestly, I wish I was dead.”
Shaker, who was cleared for release from the prison under President Bush in 2007 and under President Obama in 2009, was speaking to Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal action charity Reprieve, and his words were reported in the Observer, which also noted his claims that “the US authorities are systematically making the regime more hardline to try to defuse the strike, which now involves almost two-thirds of the detainees.”
As the Observer explained:
Techniques include making cells “freezing cold” to accentuate the discomfort of those on hunger strike and the introduction of “metal-tipped” feeding tubes, which Aamer said were forced into inmates’ stomachs twice a day and caused detainees to vomit over themselves.
The 46-year-old from London tells of one detainee who was admitted to hospital 10 days ago after a nurse had pushed the tube into his lungs rather than his stomach, causing him later to cough up blood. Aamer also alleges that some nurses at Guantánamo Bay are refusing to wear their name tags in order to prevent detainees registering abuse complaints against staff. Read the rest of this entry »
Next week (from June 29 to July 5) is “Justice for Lewisham Week” in the London Borough of Lewisham, where the hospital that serves the 270,000 inhabitants has been under threat since last October, when Matthew Kershaw, an NHS Special Administrator appointed to deal with the debts of a neighbouring NHS Trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, through legislation known as the Unsustainable Provider Regime, decided that one way of doing so would be to severely downgrade services at Lewisham (unconnected to the SLHT except by geographical proximity), shutting its A&E Department and axing 90 percent of maternity services along with all acute services.
At the end of January, Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, approved the recommendations, but the people of Lewisham — myself included — refused to give up. Campaigning has continued relentlessly, and two judicial reviews were launched in response — one launched by Lewisham Council, and another by the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign. £20,000 was needed for the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign’s judicial review, which was raised by supporters of the hospital, including Millwall F.C. and other people (including 6,000 supporters of the campaigning group 38 Degrees) who understand that Lewisham is a test case for what the would-be butchers of the NHS can get away with (both in the NHS’s own senior management, and in government).
The judicial reviews will be taking place in the High Court in London from Tuesday July 2 to Thursday July 4, and the campaign is calling for people from the community to attend the hearing each day, and also for a big group of people to be there at the start of the proceedings on the morning of July 2nd. Please email Dagmar to sign up. Read the rest of this entry »
Over 150 doctors from the US and around the world have condemned the force-feeding of hunger strikers at Guantánamo in a letter to President Obama that was published in the Lancet this week. They were following up on a letter to medical professionals at the prison, which 13 prisoners wrote at the end of May, and which I posted here.
In that letter, the prisoners complained about their abuse by doctors — “For those of us being force-fed against our will, the process of having a tube repeatedly forced up our noses and down our throats in order to keep us in a state of semi-starvation is extremely painful and the conditions under which it is done are abusive” — and called for “independent medical professionals” to be allowed into Guantánamo to treat them, and to be given full access to their medical records, in order to determine the best treatment for them.
The letter from 153 doctors echoes these calls, pointing out that the prisoners “do not trust their military doctors,” and that they “have very good reason for this,” as was revealed in the document, “Standard Operating Procedure: Medical management of Detainees on Hunger Strike,” dated March 5, 2013, which was recently obtained through FOIA legislation by my friend and colleague Jason Leopold for Al-Jazeera. Read the rest of this entry »
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