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.”
Some of those victims are still at Guantánamo, sadly — the specific victims of torture in CIA “black sites,” or of Donald Rumsfeld’s torture regime at Guantánamo itself, or, right now, the 44 hunger strikers being force-fed, who are part of the prison-wide hunger strike that is on its 140th day today, and that continues, with no end in sight, 33 days since President Obama made a major speech promising to resume the release of prisoners. Since that speech, however, not a single prisoner has been freed.
Dr. Frank Arnold, the lead signatory on a recent letter to President Obama from 153 doctors in the US and worldwide, calling for force-feeding to be brought to an end, and for independent medical personnel to have access to the prisoners, told the BBC last week, “The UN and numerous other authoritative bodies have quite explicitly stated that the force-feeding that goes on in Guantánamo is torture. Forcing someone to accept treatment which they’re competent to refuse is an assault.”
I would also point out that holding men in indefinite detention, without charge or trial, with no family visits permitted, and with no sign of when, if ever, release will be forthcoming, is and always has been a form of torture — and it is especially galling, of course, that 86 of the remaining 166 men still held indefinitely at Guantánamo were actually told three and half years ago that the US no longer wanted to hold them. However, they continue to be held because they are pawns in a cynical game of political football involving the Obama administration, Congress, the courts, the media and the American people.
To mark the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, there are events taking place in Washington D.C and London.
Protest outside the White House
My activist friends in Witness Against Torture are leading the protest in Washington, D.C., with a rally and speeches in front of the White House, beginning at noon. As they explain, “140 days into the hunger strike at Guantánamo, members of Witness Against Torture and other groups will lay 86 black cloths, each with the name of a Guantánamo prisoner cleared for transfer, on the sidewalk of the White House to dramatize the demand that the President begin transferring men from the prison facility.”
I wish I could be there with them, but at least I was able to help by providing information about the identities of the 86 men cleared for release but still held — the 56 identified last September, and the 30 others, all Yemenis, who were identified for the first time last week in a full list of the decisions regarding the disposition of the prisoners that was taken three and half years ago by the inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, established by President Obama when he took office in January 2009.
Also highlighted in the actions in Washington D.C. tomorrow are the efforts of three three US military veterans, who are on open-ended fasts in solidarity with the Guantánamo prisoners.
Elliott Adams, a former paratrooper in Vietnam, who has been on a hunger strike since May 17, said, “What is happening in Guantánamo is despicable. The continued detention of innocent men is a violation of our moral and religious principles, domestic and international law. It goes against the values I thought the American flag stood for when I was a young man in the Army. I just can’t sit and enjoy my life when my country is doing such terrible things.”
Diane Wilson, a former Army medic and fourth-generation shrimp boat captain from Texas, who has lost 50 pounds in over 56 days, said, “I know who this American fisherwoman is and where I stand. I stand in solidarity with the Guantánamo prisoners and I will fast indefinitely until justice for them comes.”
Veterans For Peace national board member Tarak Kauff, who has been on a hunger strike since June 8, says, “It is up to human beings of conscience to take the risks, step out of our comfort zones and do our utmost to end the nightmare of Guantánamo. If we do not act now, our children and their children will reap the bitter results of our cowardice: an America without basic rights and a world without justice.”
These principled men and women are amplifying a “rolling fast,” organized by Witness Against Torture, in which hundreds of US citizens have been fasting in support of the hunger strikers at Guantánamo over the last few months.
Matt Daloisio, an organizer with Witness Against Torture, said, “It should not take people denying themselves food, whether in Guantánamo or in the US, to have President Obama stand up for the Constitution and human rights. The renewed promise to close Guantánamo is important, but without immediate steps to release people, it is only another promise.”
For further information, please contact Matt Daloisio on 201-264-4424 or Jeremy Varon on 732-979-3119.
Protest in Trafalgar Square
In London, there will be a vigil in Trafalgar Square, outside the National Gallery, from 6-8pm, led by the London Guantánamo Campaign, in which LGC members and other human rights activists will “hold up placards in multiple languages calling for an end to the practice of torture and will wear T-shirts bearing the same message,” as a press release explains.
Aisha Maniar, from the London Guantánamo Campaign, said, “The theme of this year’s action, across the world, is the right to rehabilitation. This includes the right to justice and redress. In the UK, this is not always forthcoming, particularly with the enactment of the Justice and Security Act 2013 and large-scale cuts to legal aid that effectively close the doors of justice in the faces of victims.
“Over the past year, across Europe, we have also seen a decline by states in their efforts to investigate collusion in extraordinary rendition. This is in spite of positive results in favour of victims through the judicial process at both the European Court of Human Rights [in the case of Khaled El-Masri] and in Italy [in the case of Abu Omar] as well as by the European Parliament. States must demonstrate their commitment to human rights and the rule of law and not give up their duty to investigate and offer real remedies to victims of their collusion in torture over the past decade.”
I hope to be there, depending on other commitments, and to add my voice to those of campaigners calling, in particular, for the release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who has been the most persistent and eloquent commentator on the hunger strike from within Guantánamo (see my articles here, here, here, here, here and here), and who should be on a plane home tomorrow, as he has been cleared for release by the US, the UK wants him back, and lawmakers in the US cannot argue about his release, as they can with other prisoners, because they have imposed restrictions on the release of prisoners to countries they regard as dangerous. This, however is a description that cannot realistically apply to the UK, America’s staunchest ally in the disgraceful “war on terror” declared by the Bush administration after 9/11, and not brought to an end by President Obama.
For further information about the London event, please contact Aisha Maniar on 07809 757176.
Note: Also see the new CloseGitmo.net site (not to be confused with Close Guantánamo, established by myself and the US attorney Tom Wilner), and follow the links for additional actions in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
On Facebook, when I posted the link, an image of the cover of my book “The Guantanamo Files” appeared.
Dave Colding wrote:
A serious book indeed. Some of the facts may shock some. A must read.
Thanks, Dave. I keep meaning to get my thoughts together regarding a collection of my writing over the last six years as a follow-up, but I seem to be too busy. Anyone have any thoughts re: publishers, and/or choosing articles from my extensive reporting?
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