Archive for October, 2013

Appeal Court Victory for Lewisham Hospital – But Tories Respond with New Legislation to Close Dozens of Hospitals

On Tuesday, the year-long struggle to save Lewisham Hospital from butchers in the government — and in the senior management of the NHS — ended in victory for campaigners, when the Court of Appeal turned down an appeal by health secretary Jeremy Hunt. The government sought to overturn the High Court’s ruling, in July, that Hunt had acted unlawfully when he approved plans for Lewisham put forward last October by Matthew Kershaw, an NHS Special Administrator.

Appointed under legislation for dealing with NHS trusts in severe financial difficulties (the Unsustainable Providers Regime), Kershaw had proposed closing A&E and other frontline services and selling off over half of Lewisham Hospital’s buildings and land as part of a package of proposals to address the financial problems of a neighbouring NHS trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, which has three hospitals in south east London. The result would have been just one A&E Department for the 750,000 inhabitants of the boroughs of Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley, and a disgraceful scenario in which 90 percent of the mothers in Lewisham (a borough with a population of 270,000) would have been unable to give birth in their home borough.

Responding to the news, Tony O’Sullivan, the Director of Services for Children and Young People at Lewisham, and a member of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, said, “This is a complete victory.” Referring to ministers and the Special Administrator, O’Sullivan added, “We always said they were acting unlawfully and undemocratically in using an emergency process to bypass meaningful consultation and destroy an excellent hospital.” Read the rest of this entry »

Torture: The Elephant in the Room at Guantánamo’s Military Commissions

For seven and a half years now, I have watched as the United States has tried and failed to make its trial system at Guantánamo — the military commissions — function in a way that has any kind of legitimacy.

That, however, is impossible, because the trials involve made-up war crimes, invented by Congress, and, as we see on a regular basis when pre-trial hearings are held in the cases of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) and four other men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks, because there is an unresolvable tension at the heart of the most serious trials — those involving the “high-value detainees,” like KSM and his co-defendants, and also Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, another “high-value detainee” charged with involvement in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, all of whom were held — and tortured — in secret “black sites” run by the CIA in countries including Thailand and Poland.

This tension was highlighted in “You Can’t Gag Somebody and Then Want to Kill Them,” an article for the Huffington Post last week by Katherine Hawkins, a researcher and lawyer who recently worked as the Investigator for the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment, whose powerful report I discussed here. Read the rest of this entry »

Will Appeals Court Judges Rule that Force-Feeding at Guantánamo Must Stop?

Last week, a panel of three appeals court judges in Washington D.C. (in the D.C. Circuit Court) heard an appeal from three Guantánamo prisoners — including the last British resident, Shaker Aamer — asking them to order the government to end the force-feeding of prisoners, and two of the three judges “asked sceptical questions of a government lawyer who argued that the courts have no jurisdiction” over conditions at Guantánamo, as Reuters described it.

At the height of the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo this year, at least 106 of the remaining 164 prisoners were on a hunger strike, and 46 of those men were being force-fed. That total has now fallen to 15, but twice a day those 15 men are tied into restraint chairs, while liquid nutrient is pumped into their stomachs via a tube inserted through their nose, a painful and abusive process denounced by the World Medical Association and the United Nations.

In summer, two District Court judges turned down motions challenging the force-feeding of prisoners, ruling that they didn’t have jurisdiction in the case because of previous rulings involving Guantánamo and hunger strikes. Specifically, when Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, the legislation prevented prisoners from suing over their living conditions. Read the rest of this entry »

Lies and Injustice: Canada’s Ongoing Mistreatment of Omar Khadr

Last week, in a court in Edmonton, Justice John Rooke, responding to a habeas corpus petition submitted in September by former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Khadr, issued a ruling ordering him to remain in a maximum security federal prison rather than being moved to a provincial prison, “limiting his chances for parole,” as the Toronto Star described it.

Khadr, who was a juvenile — just 15 years old — when he was seized in July 2002 after a firefight in Afghanistan, where he had been taken by his father, was held at Guantánamo for ten years, and only left the prison after agreeing to a plea deal in October 2010, in which he accepted five charges — spying, conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism, attempted murder and murder (of a US Special Forces soldier, Sgt. Christopher Speer), even though that last charge was based on an extremely untrustworthy claim that he had thrown the grenade that killed Sgt. Speer. Under the terms of the plea deal, he received an eight-year sentence, with one year to be served in Guantánamo and the remaining seven in Canada.

Eleven months late, in September 2012, Khadr was eventually returned to Canada, where he was imprisoned in the Millhaven Institution, a maximum-security prison near Kingston, Ontario. In May this year, after he received threats from another prisoner, he was moved to another maximum security prison, the Edmonton Institution in Edmonton, Alberta, and in August his lawyer, Dennis Edney, sought his transfer to a provincial prison. Read the rest of this entry »

150 Days of the GTMO Clock: Despite Obama’s Promise, Just Two out of 86 Cleared Prisoners Freed from Guantánamo

Today the GTMO Clock, an initiative launched by the “Close Guantánamo” campaign in August, marks a sad anniversary — 150 days since President Obama promised to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo who were cleared for release by an inter-agency task force he appointed when he took office in 2009. Although 86 men (out of 166 prisoners in total) were cleared for release when the president made his promise on May 23, just two of those 86 men have been freed in the last five months.

Please visit the GTMO Clock site, like it, share it and tweet it if you regard this as unacceptable.

President Obama made his promise in a major speech on national security issues, when he stated, “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.”

Since that speech, two envoys have been appointed — Cliff Sloan at the State Department (in June), and Paul M. Lewis at the Pentagon, in an appointment announced two weeks ago. Sloan, described by The Hill as “a veteran Washington attorney and civil servant,” clerked for Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, and, more recently, was the publisher of Slate magazine, and legal counsel for the Washington Post‘s online operations. Lewis has served as General Counsel for the House Armed Services Committee, and the director of the Office of Legislative Counsel in the Office of the General Counsel of the Department of Defense. He begins his job on November 1. Read the rest of this entry »

How the Egyptian Media Has Reported the Story of Tariq Al-Sawah, a Severely Ill Prisoner in Guantánamo

Last week I reported the story of Tariq al-Sawah, the last Egyptian prisoner in Guantánamo, whose lawyers are seeking his release because “his health is too poor for him to pose any kind of threat.” Al-Sawah (also identified as Tarek El-Sawah), an explosives expert for al-Qaeda who became disillusioned with his former life and has cooperated extensively with the authorities in Guantánamo, is “in terrible shape after 11 years as a prisoner at Guantánamo Bay, a fact even the US military does not dispute,” as the Associated Press explained in a recent article. He is 55 years old, and as the AP also noted, his weight “has nearly doubled” in his long imprisonment, “reaching more than 420 pounds at one point, and his health has deteriorated as a result, both his lawyers and government officials concede.”

Al-Sawah’s request has not yet been ruled on, but, noticeably, it follows the recent success achieved by lawyers for Ibrahim Idris, a Sudanese prisoner who is severely schizophrenic. In Idris’s case, the Justice Department decided not to contest his habeas corpus petition — a first for the DoJ lawyers who are notorious for defending every detention, even those of prisoners cleared for release in January 2010 by President Obama’s inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force. Al-Sawah’s case is more complicated, because, although Idris was cleared for release by the task force, al-Sawah was recommended for prosecution – a decision that made no sense, as logic dictates that he should be released as a reward for his extensive cooperation, documented in this Washington Post article from 2010.

When I wrote about Tariq al-Sawah last week, I promised I would revisit his story to include further information from two detailed articles written by freelance journalist Tom Dale and published in the Egypt Independent in July last year and March this year, which shed more light on his case. Read the rest of this entry »

An Interview with Guantánamo Expert Andy Worthington for The Prisma, An Online Multi-Cultural Newspaper

Recently, I was interviewed by a young Spanish journalist, Francisco Castañón, for The Prisma, an online multicultural newspaper. The interview is here, and in it I explained how I came to write about Guantánamo, for my book The Guantánamo Files, and I also ran through aspects of the story of Guantánamo, past, present and future to help to explain why the prison is still open, and why its continued existence is so monstrously unjust. I hope you find it useful.

Andy Worthington, Guantánamo and the survivors
By Francisco Castañón, The Prisma, October 13, 2013

Since Obama took power in 2009, he has freed 73 of the prisoners in Guantánamo, of the 240 prisoners who were held when he took office. Three others have died. But in the last three years Congress approved new laws which made the promise to close the prison even more difficult to fulfill.

Former prisoners like Omar Deghayes, Moazzam Begg and Murat Kurnaz have made public the extreme conditions which the prisoners are still suffering.

Kurnaz told how difficult it was to live in a solitary confinement cell, to keep himself alive in such a small space with just enough air to breathe. Read the rest of this entry »

Although Two Men Weigh 75 Pounds or Less, Guantánamo Prisoner Moath Al-Alwi Says, “We Will Remain on Hunger Strike”

Moath al-Alwi (aka Muaz or Moaz al-Alawi), in a photo included in the classified US military documents (the Detainee Assessment Briefs) released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.For six months, Guantánamo managed to be in the news on a regular basis, as a prison-wide hunger strike succeeded in pricking the consciences of the mainstream media. Unfortunately, since the numbers of those involved fell (from 106 on July 10 to 53 a month later), the media largely moved on. At the height of the hunger strike, 46 prisoners were being force-fed, a process condemned by medical professionals, but although the US authorities state that just 15 prisoners are currently on a hunger strike, all of them are being force-fed.

Moreover, as was explained this week in an op-ed for Al-Jazeera America by Moath al-Alwi, a Yemeni prisoner also known as Moaz al-Alawi, the men who are still hunger striking have no intention of giving up, even though, as al-Alwi explains, some have lost so much weight that their appearance would send shockwaves around the world if a photograph were to be leaked. As he states, “one of my fellow prisoners now weighs only 75 pounds. Another weighed in at 67 pounds before they isolated him in another area of the prison facility.”

The situation for the prisoners who are still on a hunger strike is clearly horrific. As al-Alwi states in his op-ed, which I’m posting below, the force-feeding remains “painful and horrific,” as it was when he described it previously, in another op-ed for Al-Jazeera in July that I’m also posting below. Read the rest of this entry »

Today, As Guantánamo Hunger Strikers Seek Relief in Washington Appeals Court, A US Protestor Will Be Force-Fed Outside

Today, at 11 am Eastern time (4 pm GMT), lawyers for three prisoners still held at Guantánamo Bay — including the last British resident, Shaker Aamer — will ask the appeals court in Washington D.C. to order the government to end the force-feeding of prisoners, denounced by the World Medical Association and the UN, in which, as the legal action charity Reprieve explained in a press release, “a detainee is shackled to a specially-made restraint chair and a tube is forced into his nostril, down his oesophagus, and through to his stomach.”

At the height of the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo this year, 46 men were being force-fed. That total has now fallen to 15, but twice a day those 15 men are tied into restraint chairs, while liquid nutrient is pumped into their stomachs via a tube inserted through their nose.

As well as Shaker Aamer, the other petitioners in the appeal are Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian, and Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian. All three were cleared for release by President Obama’s inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in January 2010, and are represented by Reprieve and Jon B. Eisenberg. Read the rest of this entry »

Lawyers Seek Release from Guantánamo of Tariq Al-Sawah, an Egyptian Prisoner Who is Very Ill

Two weeks ago, when lawyers in the US Justice Department decided — for the first time — not to contest the habeas corpus petition of a prisoner in Guantánamo, it was a cause for celebration. The man in question, Ibrahim Idris, a Sudanese man in his early 50s, is severely mentally ill, as he suffers from schizophrenia, and is also morbidly obese. As his lawyer Jennifer Cowan explained, “Petitioner’s long-­term severe mental illness and physical illnesses make it virtually impossible for him to engage in hostilities were he to be released, and both domestic law and international law of war explicitly state that if a detainee is so ill that he cannot return to the battlefield, he should be repatriated.”

As I explained in my most recent article, “Some Progress on Guantánamo: The Envoy, the Habeas Case and the Periodic Reviews,” it is disgraceful that the Justice Department lawyers responsible for dealing with the Guantánamo prisoners’ cases have “vigorously contested every petition as though the fate of the United States depended on it.” I have long been outraged that, in particular,  “petitions have been fought even when the men in question have been cleared for release by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force,” as I described it.

I added:

I am unable to explain why there has been no cross-referencing of cases between the task force (which involved officials from the Justice Department) and the Civil Division of the DoJ, or why Attorney General Eric Holder has maintained the status quo, and no other senior official, up to and including the President, has acted to address this troubling lack of joined-up thinking. However, it is to be hoped that it signals the possibility for further successful challenges by prisoners who are ill — as well as opening up the possibility for cleared prisoners to call for their release through the habeas process. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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