Archive for September, 2013

Photos: The Save Lewisham Hospital Victory Dance, September 27, 2013

The Save Lewisham Hospital Victory Dance in the Rivoli BallroomMusic at the Save Lewisham Hospital Victory Dance in the Rivoli BallroomLouise Irvine, the chair of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaignQuestion Musiq at the Save Lewisham Hospital Victory DanceOlivia O'Sullivan and Louise Irvine of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaignThe Grey Cats at the Save Lewisham Hospital Victory Dance
The crowd at the Save Lewisham Hospital Victory Dance in the Rivoli BallroomThe London Function Band at the Save Lewisham Hospital Victory DanceThe Rivoli Ballroom

The Save Lewisham Hospital Victory Dance, September 27, 2013, a set on Flickr.

Sometimes you just need to have a party and celebrate, and that is what happened on Friday September 27, 2013, at the Rivoli Ballroom in Crofton Park, in the borough of Lewisham, which is the last surviving unreconstructed 1950s ballroom in London.

Hundreds and hundreds of supporters of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign gathered for a Victory Dance — the Spirit of Lewisham Victory Dance — to celebrate the campaign’s high court victory at the end of July over health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who approved plans to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital at the end of January, leading to two judicial reviews — one launched by the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, and the other by Lewisham Council — that ended in success on July 31, when Mr. Justice Silber ruled that Hunt had acted unlawfully when he approved the plans. See my photos here.

The plans had first been put forward last October by Matthew Kershaw, an NHS Special Administrator appointed to deal with the financial problems of a neighbouring trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, in the first use of the Unsustainable Providers Regime, legislation for dealing with bankrupt trusts that was introduced by the last Labour government. The proposals involved Lewisham, a solvent hospital, having its A&E Department shut, so that there would only be one A&E Department for the 750,000 inhabitants of the boroughs of Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley, and cutting maternity services so severely that nine out of ten mothers in a borough of 270,000 people would have to give birth elsewhere. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Prisoner Shaker Aamer Complains to UK Tribunal About Intelligence Services’ Role in His Kidnapping and Torture

Please sign the international petition calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, which currently has over 4,900 signatures.

What will it take to free Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay? Cleared for release in 2007 under President Bush, and again in 2010 under President Obama, he languishes still in Guantánamo, separated from his British wife and his four British children, because President Obama cannot be bothered to muster the political will to send him home to his family, and the British government may also be to blame, despite claims to the contrary, and despite a request for his return that was made to Barack Obama by David Cameron at a meeting in June.

On Wednesday, Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers represent 15 prisoners still held at Guantánamo, including Shaker Aamer, issued a press release announcing that, in the latest attempt to put pressure on the British government, he has “filed a complaint against the UK security services over their continuing involvement in his detention without charge or trial.”

Shaker has submitted his complaint to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), which “investigates complaints about the conduct of the UK’s intelligence agencies,” although it is “also highly secretive and provides a one-sided process in which the citizen hears at best very little — and usually nothing at all — about the case put against them.” In his complaint, Shaker states, “The actions of the [UK] security services have prevented [my] release due to defamatory statements that have no basis in honest fact.” Read the rest of this entry »

Is the Tide Turning Against the Tories, as Labour Pledges to Scrap the Bedroom Tax and Sack Atos?

Ever since the Tory-led coalition government got into power and ministers made it clear that they were seeking to do as much damage as possible to the poor, the ill, the unemployed and the disabled, and to dismantle, if possible, every state-owned enterprise, and anything that expresses some notion of communality and doesn’t involve naked profiteering, misery and uncertainty have been on the rise, and with good reason.

As I have stated in numerous articles over the last few years, the assault on the unemployed and disabled has been particularly heart-wrenching, as the Tories, their spin doctors, their Lib Dem accomplices and their cheerleaders in the mainstream media have portrayed the unemployed as skivers, despite there being only one job available for every five of the country’s 2.5 million unemployed, and have portrayed disabled people with similar flint-hearted distortions.

As a result, wave after wave of vile policies have been introduced with very little outrage from people who probably don’t regard themselves as particularly cruel or heartless — the reviews for the disabled, run by Atos Healthcare, which are designed to find people with severe mental and physical disabilities fit for work, so that their benefits can be cut; the workfare programs for the unemployed that are akin to slavery and allow well-off companies to fundamentally undermine the minimum wage; and the overall benefit cap, the most popular policy in this new Cruel Britannia, according to a YouGov poll in April, in which 79 per cent of people, including 71 per cent of Labour voters, supported it. This is forcing tens of thousands of families to uproot themselves — with all the attendant social costs, particularly for their children — and move to cheaper places, which tend to be those with high unemployment, creating ghettoes, as part of a disgraceful process of social cleansing. Read the rest of this entry »

Nothing to Celebrate Four Months After Obama’s Promise to Resume Releasing Cleared Prisoners from 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. Please also visit, like, share and tweet the GTMO Clock website, which we established in July to monitor how long it has been since President Obama promised to resume releasing cleared prisoners from Guantánamo, and how many of those men have been released.

Four months ago, on May 23, President Obama delivered a major speech on national security issues, in which he promised to resume releasing cleared prisoners from Guantánamo. At the time, of the remaining 166 prisoners, 86 had been cleared for release in January 2010 by an inter-agency task force of officials from the major government departments and the intelligence agencies, which the president had established shortly after taking office in January 2009.

These men were still held for a variety of reasons. One reason was the onerous restrictions imposed by Congress, where lawmakers sought to prevent the release of prisoners under any circumstances, insisting that the defense secretary would have to certify that any prisoner he sought to release would be unable to engage in terrorism in the future. Another reason was a ban on releasing cleared Yemeni prisoners, who comprise 56 of those cleared for release but still held, which President Obama imposed in January 2010, after a failed airline bomb plot that was hatched in Yemen.

On May 23, while promising to resume releasing prisoners, President Obama also dropped his ban on releasing any of the cleared Yemenis, but since then no Yemenis have been freed, and just two prisoners out of the 86 — both Algerians — have been released, after the administration made the necessary certifications to Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: Save Lewisham Hospital Victory Parade and Rally, September 14, 2013

Colourful campaigners outside Lewisham Hospital's A&E DepartmentLouise Irvine, the chair of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaignThe Save Lewisham Hospital refuse vanHands off our A&EsVictory for everyoneThe Save Lewisham Hospital march reaches Ladywell Fields
Lewisham: The Fight Goes OnLewisham Victory MarchHelp us keep our hospitalSave Lewisham Hospital: Mayor Bullock speaks

Save Lewisham Hospital Victory Parade and Rally, September 14, 2013, a set on Flickr.

On Saturday September 14, six weeks after a High Court judge, Mr. Justice Silber, ruled that health secretary Jeremy Hunt had acted unlawfully when he approved plans to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital (see here and here), campaigners and supporters of the hospital — and of the NHS in general — gathered in the centre of Lewisham, in south east London, and marched past the hospital and on to Ladywell Fields, the park behind the hospital, for a celebration of the victory.

At the rally in Ladywell Fields, there were speakers, stalls, bands and a general air of celebration and solidarity that even the rainy weather couldn’t dispel. We are, after all, used to poor weather, as our first march against the proposals, which attracted 15,000 supporters on a Saturday last November, took place in the pouring rain (see here). I took the photos above, which I hope capture something of our general resilience, and our refusal to have our spirits dampened by the rain.

The victory over the Tories, and the senior management of the NHS behind the proposals to downgrade Lewisham, was certainly worth celebrating. The plans for Lewisham, approved by Hunt in January, had been put forward last October by Matthew Kershaw, an NHS Special Administrator appointed to deal with the financial problems of a neighbouring trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, in the first use of the Unsustainable Providers Regime, legislation for dealing with bankrupt trusts that was introduced by the last Labour government. Read the rest of this entry »

Book and Video: Ahmed Errachidi, The Cook Who Became “The General” in Guantánamo

In the busy months in spring, when the prisoners at Guantánamo forced the world to remember their plight by embarking on a prison-wide hunger strike, I was so busy covering developments, reporting the prisoners’ stories, and campaigning for President Obama to take decisive action that I missed a number of other related stories.

In the last few weeks, I’ve revisited some of these stories — of Sufyian Barhoumi, an Algerian who wants to be tried; of Ahmed Zuhair, a long-term hunger striker, now a free man; and of Abdul Aziz Naji, persecuted after his release in Algeria.

As I continue to catch up on stories I missed, I’m delighted to revisit the story of Ahmed Errachidi, a Moroccan prisoner, released in 2007, whose story has long been close to my heart. In March, Chatto & Windus published Ahmed’s account of his experiences, written with Gillian Slovo and entitled, The General: The Ordinary Man Who Challenged Guantánamo.

As I explained in an article two years ago, when an excerpt from the book was first showcased in Granta:

[In 2006,] when I first began researching the stories of the Guantánamo prisoners in depth, for my book The Guantánamo Files, one of the most distinctive and resonant voices in defense of the prisoners and their trampled rights as human beings was Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal action charity Reprieve, whose lawyers represented dozens of prisoners held at Guantánamo.

One of the men represented by Stafford Smith and Reprieve was Ahmed Errachidi, a Moroccan chef who had worked in London for 16 years before his capture in Pakistan, were he had traveled as part of a wild scheme to raise money for an operation that his son needed. What made Ahmed’s story so affecting were three factors: firstly, that he was bipolar, and had suffered horribly in Guantánamo, where his mental health issues had not been taken into account; secondly, that he had been a passionate defender of the prisoners’ rights, and had been persistently punished as result, although he eventually won a concession, when the authorities agreed to no longer refer to prisoners as “packages” when they were moved about the prison; and thirdly, that he had been freed after Stafford Smith proved that, while he was supposed to have been at a training camp in Afghanistan, he was actually cooking in a restaurant on the King’s Road in London. Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington Joins Film-Makers and Authors to Judge Contest for Short Films About Torture

Are you a film-maker and an anti-torture activist? If so, then a video contest, for which I’m a judge, will be of interest to you. The Tackling Torture Video Contest, launched in Minneapolis on June 30 by by Tackling Torture at the Top, a committee of WAMM (Women Against Military Madness), is open to both amateur and professional filmmakers.

The deadline for entries is January 9, 2014. For full details see here — and see here for the home page.

Videos can be anything from 30 seconds to 5 minutes in duration. The contest is open to any citizen of any nation, but all videos must be in English or have full translations of all sound and text into English as part of the videos themselves.

There are four prizes in the competition: a $500 jury prize in the “serious” category; a $500 jury prize in the “humorous/satirical” category; and two $300 Audience Favorite prizes, one for “serious” and one for “humorous/satirical.” Read the rest of this entry »

Petition and Protest: Stop This Callous Government’s Sickening War on the Disabled

Please sign the petition to the British government to end the “War on Welfare,” which currently has over 55,000 signatures but needs 100,000 to be eligible for a Parliamentary debate, and, if you can, come to the ‘10,000 Cuts & Counting’ protest in Parliament Square on Saturday September 28. 

The British government’s assault on the poor, the ill, the unemployed and the disabled is so disgraceful that it’s often difficult to know which particular horror is the worst, although every time that their attacks on the disabled come under the spotlight I’m reminded of the importance of the saying, “The mark of a civilised society is how it treats its most vulnerable members” — attributed, in various forms, to Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill and Harry S. Truman — and it strikes me that the most disgusting of all the oppressive policies directed at the most vulnerable members of society by sadistic Tories masquerading as competent politicians — backed up by their Lib Dem facilitators and the majority of the mainstream media — is their war on the disabled.

The people behind these assaults overwhelmingly identify themselves as Christians, even though no trace of Christian values exists in their policies, and they are, instead, waging war on the very people that Christ would have told them are in need of their protection most of all.

I have been covering the government’s war on the disabled since 2011 (see my archive of articles here and here), and a brief explanation of what has been happening can be found in an article I wrote last August, in which I explained: Read the rest of this entry »

It’s Omar Khadr’s 27th Birthday: He’s Free from Guantánamo, but Still Unjustly Imprisoned in Canada

Today is the 27th birthday of Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen who has been imprisoned since he was 15 years old — in Guantánamo for ten years, and, since the end of September last year, in Canada.

Khadr’s return to Canada followed a monstrous travesty of justice in the US. Under the terms of a plea deal in October 2010, in his trial by military commission, he admitted to being an “alien unprivileged enemy belligerent,” and to throwing a grenade that killed a US soldier at the time of his capture during a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002, even though the evidence suggests that he was face down and unconscious, having been shot in the back, when the grenade was thrown. Disgracefully, he was also obliged to admit that, by partaking in combat with US forces during wartime and in an occupied country, he was a war criminal.

Khadr agreed to the plea deal solely in order to leave Guantánamo, receiving an eight-year sentence (as opposed the 40-year sentence arrived at during his trial), with one year to be served at Guantánamo and the remaining seven in Canada.

Most importantly, Khadr was just a child when he was seized, even though, as a juvenile — those under 18 when their alleged crimes take place — he should have been rehabilitated, according to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, to which both the US and Canada are signatories, rather than being tortured and otherwise abused in US custody, and abandoned by his own government. Read the rest of this entry »

Quarterly Fundraiser Day Three: Still Seeking $1500 For My Guantánamo Work

Please support my work!

It’s the third day of my quarterly fundraiser in which I ask you, my readers and supporters, to donate to support my work as an independent journalist, researching, writing about, and campaigning to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. I’m seeking $2500 to support my work over the next three months, With the help of seven friends and supporters, I’ve raised $1000 in the last few days, but I’m still hoping to raise another $1500 to keep me working over the next three months. Please click on the link above if you can help out.

Your support — and your support alone — funds the majority of my work, and it is no exaggeration to say that, without you, I wouldn’t be able to write and publish the majority of the 70 or so articles that I hope to be making available over the next three months. Your donations also cover my other work — the personal appearances, the TV and radio interviews, and the maintenance of this website and various social media sites associated with it.

All contributions are welcome, whether it’s $25, $100 or $500 — or, of course, the equivalent in pounds sterling or any other currency. You can also make a recurring payment on a monthly basis by ticking the box marked, “Make This Recurring (Monthly),” and if you are able to do so, it would be very much appreciated. 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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