Archive for July, 2013

Guantánamo Hunger Striker Abu Wa’el Dhiab: “The Mistreatment Now is More Severe than During Bush”

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.

Last week, lawyers for four hunger striking prisoners at Guantánamo asked a judge to order the government to stop their force-feeding and forced medication. The men — Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, Ahmed Belbacha, and Nabil Hadjarab, both Algerians, and Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian — are part of a prison-wide hunger strike that began in February 6, and that involves 106 of the remaining 166 prisoners according to the authorities, and at least 120 according to the prisoners.

45 of those men — including Ahmed Belbacha and Nabil Hadjarab — are being force-fed, and all four are amongst the 86 men (out of 166 prisoners in total) who were cleared for release by President Obama’s inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in January 2010, but are still held.

This is partly because of onerous restrictions on the release of prisoners imposed by Congress, but President Obama promised to overcome these restrictions and to resume releasing prisoners in a major speech on national security issues on May 23, and he has the power to do so via a waiver in the legislation that allows him to bypass Congress if he regards it as being “in the national security interests of the United States.”

Sadly, he has not yet exercised that option, and not a single prisoner has been released since his promise was made. Read the rest of this entry »

Judge Recognizes Force-Feeding as Torture, But Tells Guantánamo Prisoner Only President Obama Can Deal with the Hunger Strike

In the District Court in Washington D.C. on Monday, Judge Gladys Kessler turned down a motion calling for her to order the government to stop force-feeding prisoners at Guantánamo and giving them medication without their consent. The motion was submitted on behalf of four prisoners taking part in the prison-wide hunger strike that began in February, who are amongst the 86 cleared prisoners still held (out of 166 prisoners in total), whose release was recommended by an inter-agency task force established by President Obama when he took office in 2009.

According to the government, 106 prisoners are engaged in the hunger strike. The prisoners state that the true number is around 120, but both parties seem to agree that 45 of these men are being force-fed. The government, however, refuses to recognize force-feeding as a horrendous procedure, even though it is recognized as torture by medical professionals, when it involves the force-feeding of mentally competent prisoners.

Judge Kessler is trapped by a legal precedent established by a higher court, the D.C. Circuit Court, but she nevertheless managed to criticize that precedent, and also to mention, and support the universal recognition that force-feeding prisoners “violates Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which prohibits torture or cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment.”

She also managed to both criticize President Obama for his inaction, and to point out that, as the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, he has “the authority — and power — to directly address the issue of force-feeding of the detainees at Guantánamo Bay.” Read the rest of this entry »

Video: On Day 150 of the Guantánamo Hunger Strike, Andy Worthington Tells RT Why the Prison is a Moral, Legal and Ethical Abomination

Last Friday, on Day 150 of the ongoing hunger strike at Guantánamo, I provided a round-up of the terrible situation at the prison for RT. Interviewed in a studio on a boat on the Thames, while lunchtime drinkers soaked up the sun on the lower decks, where there is a bar, I was asked why it was so hard for the US to release or transfer to the US mainland prisoners that it costs nearly a million dollars each, per year, to hold at Guantánamo.

I explained that, although opposition has been raised by Congress, President Obama has proven to be “unwilling to spend the political capital” to release any of the 86 men (out of 166 in total) who were cleared for release by his inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force three and a half years ago. I spoke about his “fine speech” on May 23 when he said he was going to resume releasing prisoners — but has not released anyone since — and reminded viewers of the “new tyranny” of the US, at a time when, ironically, the nation was celebrating its freedom, 237 years ago, from the tyranny of British rule.

Asked about the force-feeding in Guantánamo, where 45 of the 120 men who have been on a hunger strike for five months are being force-fed, I explained how “medical professionals all agree that it is wrong to force-feed a mentally competent prisoner, and that force-feeding is a form of torture,” but pointed out that allowing prisoners to die would be a PR disaster for the US. I stressed, however, that we always need to look at political issues behind the hunger strike and the force-feeding. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Rapper Mos Def (Yasiin Bey) Force-Fed Like Guantánamo Prisoners

My friends and colleagues at Reprieve, the legal action charity whose lawyers represent 15 prisoners in Guantánamo, have just launched a campaign, “Stand Fast for Justice,” in which they are encouraging people to fast in solidarity with the prisoners at Guantánamo, 120 of whom are taking part in a hunger strike that is now in its sixth month. As the website states, “Stand for your belief in basic human rights. Fast to relieve an unjustly-treated detainee. Start your own hunger strike in solidarity — for hours or days, any support helps.”

To launch the #Standfast campaign, the rapper and actor Mos Def (now known as Yasiin Bey) agreed to be force-fed according to the Standard Operating Procedure for force-feeding prisoners at Guantánamo, which was obtained in May by Jason Leopold of Al-Jazeera.

The harrowing results are below, in a four-minute film, made by Reprieve and the Bafta award-winning director Asif Kapadia, in which Yasiin Bey found the procedure so harrowing that he was unable to continue with it. As the Guardian described it, “When the first tube was dislodged, he was unable to go ahead with a second attempt by the medical team to insert it.”

Breaking down, he said, “I can’t do it,” and afterwards explained, The first part of it is not that bad but then you get this burning and then it just starts to get really unbearable and it starts to feel like somethings going into your brain, and then it reached the back of my throat, and I really just couldn’t take it.” Read the rest of this entry »

Audio: Andy Worthington Speaks about Guantánamo at the “Independence from America” Protest at RAF Menwith Hill, July 4, 2013

Last week, I had the opportunity to join up with a phenomenal collection of activists — from the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases (CAAB) — on top of the Yorkshire Dales at Menwith Hill, an RAF base that acts as a front for the NSA (the US National Security Agency), which has been in charge of the base since 1966 — a very topical arrangement, given the recent revelations about the NSA by former analyst Edward Snowden.

I had been invited — to speak about Guantánamo — by Lindis Percy, a tireless campaigner against militarism, who has been arrested and imprisoned on numerous occasions, and my talk — just over 20 minutes in total — is available here, as an MP3.

An Indymedia page reporting on the event — including the photo above — is here, and it also includes links to some of the other guests, including Salma Yaqoob, psychotherapist, Chair of Birmingham Stop the War and a spokesperson for Birmingham Central Mosque, who gave a great speech.

My talk was, I believe, a useful explanation of why Guantánamo is still open, and why it remains, as it has always been, a moral, legal and ethical abomination, and a place that should be a source of shame to anyone with a shred of decency.

I spoke about the prison’s history, about the ongoing prison-wide hunger strike, now in its sixth month, about the obstacles raised by Congress to prevent the closure of the prison and the release of prisoners, and about the generally lesser-known obstacles raised by President Obama. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: On Day 150 of the Hunger Strike at Guantánamo, Andy Worthington Talks to Michael Slate

Yesterday, I was delighted to speak to Michael Slate on his show on KPFK in Los Angeles, as the monstrosity that is Guantánamo reached another horrible milestone — Day 150 of the prison-wide hunger strike that began in early February. Michael and I have spoken many times before (most recently here and here), and our 20-minute interview is here, at the start of the hour-long show.

According to the authorities, 106 of the remaining 166 prisoners are taking part in the hunger strike (the prisoners claim the true total is around 120). Moreover, 45 of these men are being force-fed, a horrible process whereby they are strapped down into restraint chairs twice a day, and have liquid nutrient pumped into their stomachs through tubes inserted up their noses.

For recent discussions of this process by two of the men being force-fed — who, shockingly, are amongst the 86 men cleared for release who are still held — see “Guantánamo Hunger Strike: Nabil Hadjarab Tells Court, ‘I Will Consider Eating When I See People Leaving This Place‘” and “In Court Submission, Hunger Striker Ahmed Belbacha Tells Obama, ‘End the Nightmare that is Guantánamo.'” Read the rest of this entry »

Save Lewisham Hospital: The Submission to the Judicial Review by Dr. Helen Tattersfield, Chair of the CCG

Today is the 65th anniversary of the NHS, and I’d like to raise a toast to the visionary founders of the health service, who established a system of medical care for all of us, free at the point of entry and paid for out of general taxation, that has demonstrated, and continues to demonstrate, what a universal insurance system should look like.

The lives of my wife and my son were, without a doubt, saved by doctors and nurses in the NHS, and I am also grateful for those who saved me from a serious illness a few years ago. The medical emergencies we faced could have happened to anyone, rich or poor, but for 65 years the NHS has guaranteed that, regardless of how rich or poor you are, all will be treated equally.

The country that created the NHS, and that recognises its value, is the country I want to carry on living in, but it was hijacked 34 years ago by Margaret Thatcher, who was interested in private profit rather than the common good, and governments ever since have continued to behave as though all that counts is the profit of the few at the expense of the many — Tony Blair and New Labour being a particular disappointment.

For sheer destructive will, however, the Tory-led coalition government that has been laying waste to the country since May 2010 has taken the privatising zeal of Thatcherism and New Labour to hitherto unimagined depths. These butchers — mostly privately educated millionaires with a cesspit of mental health problems and a colossal grudge against the world — are determined to try and destroy the public ownership of almost every aspect of life in Britain, with one exception, ironically, being their own salaries.

The 65th anniversary of the founding of the NHS comes the day after two judicial reviews came to an end in the High Court, where, for three days, a judge heard lawyers for the government try to defend the unjustifiable decision, by senior NHS managers and the health secretary Jeremy Hunt, to savagely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital in south east London. Lewisham is my local hospital, and the plans to downgrade it would be devastating for the people of the borough, which has population of 270,000 people. Read the rest of this entry »

Justice Department Tells Court that Force-Feeding Guantánamo Hunger Strikers is “Maintaining the Status Quo”

What a disgrace the Justice Department lawyers dealing with Guantánamo are. On Wednesday, Andrew Warden, Timothy Walthall and Daniel Barish of the Civil Division’s Federal Programs Branch argued in federal court in Washington D.C. against a motion submitted on behalf of four of the prisoners involved in the prison-wide hunger strike that is nearing its sixth month, asking Judge Rosemary Collyer to order the government to stop force-feeding prisoners engaged in the hunger strike, and also to stop administering medication without the prisoners’ consent.

45 of the prisoners are currently being force-fed, and according to the government 106 of the remaining 166 prisoners are on a hunger strike. The prisoners themselves claim that around 120 of them are refusing food. Two of the four men represented in the motion are being force-fed — Ahmed Belbacha and Nabil Hadjarab, both Algerians — while the other two are taking part in the hunger strike but are not being force-fed. They are Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian.

All four were cleared for release from the prison in January 2010, by the inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established when he took office, and all but Abu Wa’el Dhiab were also cleared for release under President Bush. 86 men in total were cleared for release by Obama’s task force, but are still held. Read the rest of this entry »

Save Lewisham Hospital: Hopes that the Judicial Reviews Will Find Downgrade Plans Unlawful

On Tuesday, a High Court judge, Sir Stephen Silber, began hearing two judicial reviews intended to prove that plans to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital in south east London — conceived and approved by senior NHS management and the Tory-led government — are unlawful.

The judicial reviews, submitted by the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, and Lewisham Council, which I discussed in detail here, follow a roller-coaster eight months since it was announced at the end of October 2012 that, as part of legislation dealing with bankrupt NHS trusts, an NHS Special Administrator, Matthew Kershaw — appointed in the summer to deal with the indebted South London Healthcare Trust, in the boroughs of Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley — recommended that Lewisham, which is not in debt, and is unconnected to the SLHT, should merge with one of the SLHT’s three hospitals, the Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich, and have its A&E Department closed down, which currently receives 110,000 patients a year.

This is a drastic move that would then lead to the closure of all acute services, including the majority (90 percent) of all births in Lewisham, where 4,400 births currently take place every year, as well as Lewisham’s well-regarded children’s A&E, and other important frontline services.

With 270,000 inhabitants, and a growing population, the decision to force Lewisham’s residents to go elsewhere in an emergency is nothing short of madness. Getting to the Queen Elizabeth in Woolwich involves a journey that, very literally, can take two hours by public transport at busy times, to a hospital that is already struggling with A&E waiting times, and the other options involve King’s in Camberwell or St. Thomas’s in Lambeth, neither or which has spare capacity. Read the rest of this entry »

In Court Submission, Hunger Striker Ahmed Belbacha Tells Obama, “End the Nightmare that is Guantánamo”

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 Sunday June 30, 2013, attorneys for four prisoners at Guantánamo filed a motion with the District Court in Washington D.C. The motion was submitted in response to the authorities’ force-feeding and forced medication of hunger strikers engaged in a prison-wide hunger strike that began in February 6, and that involves 106 of the remaining 166 prisoners according to the authorities, and at least 120 according to the prisoners. 44 of those men are being force-fed.

The four prisoners are Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, Ahmed Belbacha, and Nabil Hadjarab, both Algerians, and Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian, and both the Algerians are currently being force-fed.

All of them are amongst the 86 men (out of 166 prisoners in total) who were cleared for release by President Obama’s inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in January 2010, but are still held. This is partly because of severe restrictions imposed by Congress, but President Obama promised to overcome these restrictions and to resume releasing prisoners in a major speech on national security issues on May 23, although not a single prisoner has been released since that promise was delivered.

The motion was submitted by the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, and Jon  B. Eisenberg, an attorney in Oakland, California, and as Reprieve explained in a press release, the lawyers asked the court to issue a ruling to compel the government to “stop force-feeding in the prison and stop force-medicating prisoners, particularly with Reglan, a drug used by the US during the force-feeding process that when used for extended periods of time can cause severe neurological disorders, including one that mimics Parkinson’s disease.” 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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