Archive for June, 2013

Memories of Youth and the Need for Dissent on the 29th Anniversary of the last Stonehenge Free Festival

Please note that my books Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield are both still available, and I also wholeheartedly recommend Travelling Daze: Words and Images from the UK’s New Travellers and Festivals, Late 1960s to the Here and Now, Alan Dearling’s epic review of the traveller scene (to which I was one of many contributors), which was published last year, and is essential reading for anyone interested in Britain’s traveller history.

Every year, on the summer solstice, I am confronted by two particular questions, as, I’m sure, are many people old enough to have spent their youth growing up under Margaret Thatcher, or in the years previously, under Ted Heath’s Tory government, and the Labour governments of Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan, when an unofficial civil war was taking place in British society.

Those two questions are: what happened to my youth, and what happened to massive, widespread societal dissent?

The former of course, is an existential question, which only young people don’t understand. It’s 29 years since the last Stonehenge Free Festival, an annual anarchic jamboree that lasted for the whole of June, when Britain’s alternative society set up camp in the fields across the road from Stonehenge, and it’s 39 years since the first festival was established, by an eccentric young man named Phil Russell, or, as his friends and admirers remember him, Wally Hope. Read the rest of this entry »

TV and Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses the Ongoing Guantánamo Hunger Strike on Press TV and on KBOO FM

On Tuesday evening, I responded to a last-minute request for a brief interview about Guantánamo, and the ongoing hunger strike that is now on its 135th day, with Press TV. That interview is available here, and below is a rather helpful transcript, produced by Press TV, to which I have made a few corrections.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to link to a radio interview I undertook last week with Linda Olson-Osterlund on her show A Deeper Look on KBOO FM, a community radio station in Portland, Oregon. Linda first approached me for an interview back in May 2008, and we have since spoken many times. It is always a pleasure to speak to her, as she is a well-informed host, passionate about exposing injustice. The half-hour show is available here, and the MP3 is here.

The show was entitled, “Guantánamo Bay Prison Camp: Will It ever Close?” and this is how Linda described it:

With 104 men on hunger strike, 41 of them being force fed and 4 hospitalized, White House officials and Senators Feinstein and McCain paid a surprise visit last Friday. At the same time there is a mini troop surge going on at the prison. Join me, Linda Olson-Osterlund, for A Deeper Look, this Thursday morning at 9:30am. My guest will be Andy Worthington, journalist and author of The Guantánamo Files. He’ll help make sense of the changing political landscape about the prison camp and bring us up to date on efforts to have men released. Read the rest of this entry »

Close Guantánamo: We Still Have Three Urgent Demands for President Obama

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.

On Monday, President Obama fulfilled the first of three promises he made a month ago to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, by appointing an envoy at the State Department to deal with prisoner transfers.

In a speech on national security issues on May 23, in which the President spoke at length about Guantánamo, he made the following promises: “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.”

In fulfilling the first promise, President Obama has appointed Clifford Sloan, described by The Hill as “a veteran Washington attorney and civil servant.” He was “an associate counsel to former President Clinton and an assistant to the solicitor general in the first Bush administration,” and also “worked as associate counsel in the Office of Independent Counsel investigating the Iran-Contra affair and clerked for Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.” More recently, he was the publisher of Slate magazine, and legal counsel for the Washington Post‘s online operations. Read the rest of this entry »

US Military Admits Only 2.5 Percent of All Prisoners Ever Held at Guantánamo Will Be Tried

So it’s official, then. Eleven and a half years after the “war on terror” prison opened at Guantánamo, the maximum number of prisoners that the US military intends to prosecute, or has already prosecuted, is 20 — or just 2.5 percent of the 779 men held at the prison since it opened in January 2002.

The news was announced on Monday June 10 by Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantánamo, and it is a humiliating climbdown for the authorities.

When President Obama appointed an inter-agency task force to review the cases of the remaining Guantánamo prisoners, which issued its report in January 2010, the task force recommended that 36 of the remaining prisoners should be tried.

Just five of the 36 have since been to trial — one in the US, and four through plea deals in their military commissions at Guantánamo. Another man — Ali Hamza al-Bahlul — had already been tried and convicted, in the dying days of George W. Bush’s second term, and two others had been sent home after their trials — David Hicks after a plea deal in March 2007, and Salim Hamdan after a trial in July 2008 — making a total of 39 prosecutions, or intended prosecutions, after eleven and a half years of the prison’s existence. That was just 5 percent of the men held throughout Guantánamo’s history, but now that figure, which was, in itself, an extremely poor reflection on the efficacy of the prison and its relationship to any acceptable notions of justice, has been halved.

As Reuters described it, Brig. Gen. Martins explained that the number set by the task force was “ambitious” in light of two rulings last October and in January this year by judges in the court of appeals in Washington D.C. Read the rest of this entry »

EXCLUSIVE: Former Guantánamo Prisoner Shamil Khaziev Detained in Holland

In news that has reached me exclusively via John Walls, an attorney at law in the town of Prinsenbeek, in the Netherlands, it transpires that a former Guantánamo prisoner, Shamil Khaziev, a Russian citizen, is imprisoned in Amsterdam, as the Dutch authorities try to strip him of his right to remain in the Netherlands. This was granted under the Geneva Convention in 2007, after he successfully sought asylum following his persecution in Russia.

A Tatar from Bashkortostan, north of Kazakhstan, and a former police lieutenant, Khaziev was seized in Afghanistan in November 2001, and survived a notorious US-led massacre at Qala-i-Janghi, a fortress used as a prison, which was precipitated by an uprising amongst a number of the prisoners, who feared that their captors meant to kill them. He was released from Guantánamo, where he was mistakenly identified as Almasm Rabilavich Sharipov, in February 2004, but sought and was granted asylum in Holland in 2007 after being persecuted by the authorities in his home country.

After being repatriated from Guantánamo, he was imprisoned in Russia until June 2004, and then, as as Human Rights Watch explained:

[He] returned to Uchali, a small town in the Russian republic of Bashkortostan, where his family lived. Human rights activist Alexandra Zernova, who met with Khazhiev on several occasions, said that he was repeatedly questioned by local FSB and UBOP officials after his return, and was briefly detained in Ufa, the Bashkortostan capital, in December 2004, on suspicion of membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir. He was released without charge. In September 2005, while riding on a train, he was questioned by UBOP officials from Samara. According to Zernova, Khazhiev has been unable to secure employment since his return from Guantánamo. He left Russia in March 2007. Read the rest of this entry »

From Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer Speaks, As His Lawyers Urge Cameron to Ask Obama for His Return at the G8

Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, needs your help. Please write to the British Prime Minister David Cameron, via Twitter, or via the 10 Downing Street website, asking him to urgently raise Shaker’s case with President Obama when they meet at the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland next week.

Despite being cleared for release under President Bush in 2007, and again under President Obama in January 2010, when a sober and responsible inter-agency task force of government officials and representatives of the intelligence agencies included him in its recommendations to release 156 of the 240 prisoners held at the time, he is still imprisoned, and still in solitary confinement, and is on a hunger strike, along with the majority of the 166 men still held. Even according to the US authorities, whose figures have failed to match those given by the prisoners themselves, 104 prisoners are taking part in the hunger strike, and 43 of those men are being force-fed. The prisoners state that the true total of those taking part in the hunger strike is around 130.

Of the 156 prisoners cleared for release by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, 86 remain. The rest were freed — mostly in 2009 and 2010, before restrictions on the release of prisoners were raised by President Obama himself and by Congress. Obama banned the release of any cleared Yemenis after a failed bomb plot in December 2009, which had been hatched in Yemen, and Congress has also passed onerous restrictions on his ability to free prisoners — a ban on the release of prisoners to any country where even a single individual has allegedly engaged in “recidivism” (returning to the battlefield), and a demand that the secretary of defense must certify that, if released to a country that is not banned, a prisoner will not, in future, engage in terrorism.

This, of course, is an impossible demand, but there is a waiver in the legislation that allows him to bypass Congress and release prisoners if he regards it as being “in the national security interests of the United States.” Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Stories: 19 of the 43 Men Being Force-Fed in the Prison-Wide Hunger Strike

Please support my work!

This is my 2000th post since I began writing articles about Guantánamo on a full-time basis as a freelance investigative journalist and commentator six years ago. Please donate to support my work if you appreciate what I do.

As the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo reaches its 128th day, we are still awaiting action from President Obama, who promised three weeks ago to resume the release of cleared prisoners (who make up 86 out of the remaining 166 prisoners), and to appoint new envoys in the State Department and the Pentagon to deal with the resettlement of prisoners.

In the meantime, conditions in Guantánamo are harsher than they have been at any time since President Obama took office, nearly four and a half years ago. Two months ago, the authorities staged a violent dawn raid on Camp 6, where the majority of the prisoners are held, and where they had been allowed to spend much of their time communally, and locked everyone up in solitary confinement.

Militarily, this may have restored order, but it has not broken the hunger strike, and morally and ethically it is a disgrace. The reason the men are on a hunger strike is not to inconvenience the guard force, but to protest about their ongoing imprisonment — in almost all cases without charge or trial, and literally with no end in sight, after their abandonment by all three branches of the US government. As a result, a lockdown, which involves isolating these men from one another while they starve themselves, and while many of them are force-fed, is the cruellest way to proceed. Read the rest of this entry »

Quarterly Fundraiser Day 3: $2000 Still Need to Support My Guantánamo Work

Please support my work!

Thanks to the generosity of nine friends and supporters, I have so far received just over $400 in my quarterly fundraising appeal for donations to support my ongoing work on Guantánamo as a freelance investigative journalist and a campaigner for the prison’s closure.

I am still hoping to raise $2500 for the next three months — which works out at just $200 a week — as I rely on your donations to make this work even vaguely feasible.

All contributions are welcome, whether it’s $25, $100 or $500 — or, of course, the equivalent in pounds sterling or any other currency. Readers can pay via PayPal from anywhere in the world, but if you’re in the UK and want to help without using PayPal, you can send me a cheque (address here — scroll down to the bottom of the page), and if you’re not a PayPal user and want to send a check from the US (or from anywhere else in the world, for that matter), please feel free to do so, but bear in mind that I have to pay a $10/£6.50 processing fee on every transaction. Securely packaged cash is also an option! Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Defends Bradley Manning and Whistleblowers on Voice of Russia

Last week, as the trial of Bradley Manning finally got underway at Fort Meade in Maryland, nearly three years after the military analyst was first arrested for the biggest leak of classified documents in US history, I was asked to take part in a radio show on Voice of Russia, the radio station whose UK studio is in St. James’s Square in central London.

The show was entitled, “Bradley Manning and the nature of intelligence,” and involved guests in three studios — in Washington D.C, Moscow and London. It was 45 minutes in total, but the London segment has been made available as an audio file, and can be listened to, or downloaded here.

I appeared in London alongside John Gearson, Professor of National Security Studies, and Director of the Centre for Defence Studies at King’s College London, and our host was Hywel Davis.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to speak about the importance of Bradley Manning’s whistleblowing, and to explain why I believe that, although he obviously disobeyed the rules governing the behavior of US military personnel, the attempt to claim that he was “aiding the enemy” is absurd, and the military — and the Obama administration — should, at most, have settled for the 20-year sentence that is the maximum punishment for the crimes to which Manning has already agreed. Read the rest of this entry »

Join the Anti-Capitalist Week of Action in London Against the G8

I just have time to throw out a quick reminder that tomorrow, Tuesday June 11, there’s a Carnival Against Capitalism taking place in London’s West End, beginning at 12 noon, at the start of a week of action against the G8, which takes place on June 17-18 in Northern Ireland. There are two suggested meeting points — one at Oxford Circus and one at Piccadilly Circus — and this is what Milena Olwan, a social worker, told the Guardian about the protests against the G8, echoing what many people think, as politicians meet, who, at best, are deluded, and at worst, like the Tories, are revelling in the opportunity to impose savage austerity cuts on the most vulnerable members of society.

“The G8 are anti-democratic, unaccountable, and they represent an extinct world order,” she said, adding, They embody the old ways of protectionism, imperialism and greed … [W]e will show them that ordinary people coming together taking action can forge alternatives that do not destroy lives but create a life beyond capitalism.”

This is how the organisers describe the Carnival Against Capitalism:

This action will only be as effective as the people participating in it. We have not negotiated with the police and we will not be controlled. If we look after each other, stay mobile, don’t get caught in kettles and are ready to make quick decisions about what to do next we can make the most of the day. 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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