Archive for October, 2013

Some Progress on Guantánamo: The Envoy, the Habeas Case and the Periodic Reviews

I wrote the following article — under the heading, “Progress on Guantánamo,” 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.

Progress towards closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay — or even getting men freed who have been cleared for release by a government task force — has become such a slow and difficult process that any positive developments must be greeted with a sense of relief that at least something is being done.

In the last week, three developments that offer some hope have taken place — the appointment of a “Special Envoy for Guantánamo closure” in the Pentagon; the decision by the Justice Department not to contest the habeas corpus petition of a severally mentally ill prisoner; and the start of a review process for the majority of the 80 prisoners still held at Guantánamo who are not amongst the 84 prisoners who were cleared for release by President Obama’s inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in January 2010.

The fact that 84 prisoners who were cleared for release nearly four years ago are still held shows the extent to which progress towards closing Guantánamo has almost ground to a halt. Read the rest of this entry »

Watch the Shocking New Animated Film About the Guantánamo Hunger Strike

Below is a powerful new animated film, six minutes in length, which tells the story of the hunger strike at Guantánamo that began in February, and involved the majority of the 164 prisoners still held over the six-month period that followed. At its height, 46 prisoners were being force-fed, and even though just 17 prisoners are still taking part in the hunger strike, 16 of them are being force-fed. Force-feeding is a brutal process, condemned by the medical profession, but it is difficult to understand what is happening at Guantánamo because no images are available of prisoners being force-fed.

To overcome the difficulty for people to empathize with people whose suffering is deliberately kept hidden, the new animated film, “Guantánamo Bay: The Hunger Strikes,” produced by Mustafa Khalili and Guy Grandjean of the Guardian, and the animation company Sherbet, features the testimony of four prisoners, all of whom have been cleared for release but are still held (a situation in which 84 of the remaining 164 prisoners find themselves). The film, which depicts life in the prison, including the horrible reality of force-feeding, is narrated by the actors David Morrisey and Peter Capaldi. See here for an account of the making of the film in today’s Observer, and see here for David Morrissey’s comments about it.

The men whose stories are featured are Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, Younus Chekhouri (aka Younous Chekkouri), a Moroccan who has strong ties to Germany, Samir Moqbel (aka Mukbel), a Yemeni whose op-ed in the New York Times in April drew attention to the hunger strike, and Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian who lived in the UK before his capture. The film also includes testimony from Nabil Hadjarab, one of just two prisoners released since President Obama promised to resume releasing cleared prisoners in May, and all of the statements were provided by the men’s lawyers at Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: Free Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo, Parliamentary Vigil, October 9, 2013

Free Shaker Aamer: calling for a full Parliamentary debateStand Up for Shaker AamerStand Up for Shaker Aamer - in front of Big BenPlease join us if you believe in innocent until proven guiltyFree Shaker Aamer: Close Guantanamo and BagramBring Shaker Aamer home now
Waiting 11 years for Shaker AamerFree Shaker Aamer vigil, October 9, 2013Ray Silk calls for the release from Guantanamo of Shaker AamerAndy Worthington calls for the release from Guantanamo of Shaker Aamer

Free Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo, Parliamentary Vigil, October 9, 2013, a set on Flickr.

On Wednesday October 9, 2013, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign held a vigil outside Parliament for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantanamo, whose British wife and four British children await his return in south London.

Shaker — along with 83 other men still held, out of 164 prisoners in total — was cleared for release by a military review board under the Bush administration in 2007, and by President Obama’s inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in January 2010, but he is still held because of Congressional obstructions, and President Obama’s unwillingness to spend political capital overcoming those obstacles. Although the British government has been calling for his return since 2007, it is also apparent that his release has not been made a significant enough priority by ministers, or he would have been freed by now. Read the rest of this entry »

Reflections on Herman Wallace – and I Discuss Guantánamo on Radio Stations in Portland and Johannesburg

Suddenly I’m talking to people on the radio all the time — for the first time since the height of the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo a few months back. I’ll shortly be speaking to an old friend, Peter B. Collins in San Francisco, and on Sunday I’ll be speaking to another old friend, Jackie Chase at Radio Free Brighton, and I’ll be making those shows available as soon as they’re online. On Saturday, I spoke to Chuck Mertz in Chicago for “This is Hell” (which I publicized here), and in the interests of completeness I’m posting here a couple of shows I did recently that I haven’t made available until now.

The first show was a half-hour interview with Linda Olson-Osterlund on KBOO FM in Portland,Oregon, which I wasn’t able to make available until now because of problems with KBOO FM’s website. These have now been resolved, and the interview is available here (or via the webpage here). Linda and I have been discussing Guantánamo for many years, and, although it is never a happy occasion to have to talk about Guantánamo, it was good to be able to discuss at length the ongoing injustice of the prison, the failure to close it, and the responsibilities for that failure, which lie with all three branches of the US government — the Obama administration, Congress and parts of the judiciary; specifically, the court of appeals in Washington D.C. and the Supreme Court.

The spur for our discussion was the release of two Algerian prisoners, and it is a sign of how very wrong things are at Guantánamo that they were the first two prisoners to be freed as a result of the wishes of the Obama administration — rather than through a court order or a plea deal in the military commission trials — since September 2010. The two men had been cleared for release in January 2010 by the inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established when he took office in January 2009, but while they have finally been released, 84 other men, also cleared for release by the task force, continue to be held, because of Congressional obstruction, and President Obama’s unwillingness to spend political capital overcoming the obstacles raised by Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses the Ongoing Injustice of Guantánamo with Chuck Mertz on “This Is Hell”

On Saturday, I was delighted to talk about Guantánamo past, present and future with Chuck Mertz, who hosts an excellent four-hour radio show, “This is Hell,” every Saturday on WNUR 89.3FM Chicago. Chuck and I have spoken several times in the seven and a half years since I began researching and writing about Guantánamo on a full-time basis, and we had a very thorough discussion on Saturday, which is available here. Scroll down to listen to my 45-minute interview, after interviews with Ann Jones, Juan Cole and Dana Becker, or listen to the whole show here, which also includes Jim Naureckas, Trevor Ewen and Jeff Dorchen.

Our latest discussion was triggered by Chuck’s horrified appreciation of my most recent article for Al-Jazeera, “At Guantánamo, a microcosm of the surveillance state,” in which I discussed the latest scandal to rock the permanently troubled military commission trial system at Guantánamo — a technical upgrade that, through incompetence, or through an aspect of the sweeping surveillance state exposed by Edward Snowden earlier this year, led to 540,000 confidential emails sent by military defense attorneys at Guantánamo ending up with prosecutors, and seven gigabytes of files disappearing completely.

This, for the record, is how Chuck described the show:

If Franz Kafka had access to 21st century technology, we could have booked him on the show to talk about the military commission trials of Guantánamo detainees. Defense files are given to the prosecution, the FBI spies on meetings between lawyers, and charges are sought against only 2.5% of total detainees at the site. Kafka wasn’t available to comment, but investigative journalist Andy Worthington knows the alienation and farcical nature of authority better than anyone outside Camp X-Ray’s walls. Read the rest of this entry »

Clive Stafford Smith’s Support for an Independent Medical Evaluation for Shaker Aamer in Guantánamo

Following my recent article about a newly-submitted motion to a US court on behalf of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, calling for him to be examined by an independent medical expert of his choice, I am pleased to be able to post a detailed declaration submitted by Clive Stafford Smith, one of his lawyers, and the founder and director of Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers represent 15 prisoners still held in Guantánamo. Please also see the declaration by Ramzi Kassem, posted on the “Close Guantánamo” website.

As I explained when I posted the original article:

Mr. Aamer’s legal team, who include Ramzi Kassem of City University of New York School of Law (who made this new motion available to me), Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, and David Remes, note that, although their client was cleared for release from Guantánamo “years ago by the US government’s own interagency process,” he is still held, and, they maintain, “An examination by an independent medical expert is needed for the Court to exercise its jurisdiction meaningfully by accurately assessing the reliability and voluntariness of any statements Mr. Aamer reportedly gave American (and any other) interrogators.”

Mr. Kassem and the other lawyers also state that an independent medical examination will aid the Court and the lawyers “in determining if Mr. Aamer can fully participate in his habeas proceedings.” As in the cases of the majority of the prisoners still held, Mr. Aamer has not had a judge rule on the merits of his habeas corpus petition, even though the Supreme Court recognized over five years ago, in Boumediene v. Bush, in June 2008, that the prisoners at Guantánamo have constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights.

The lawyers also note, “Additionally, as his past and continued mistreatment threatens irreparable harm, Mr. Aamer is entitled to the relief sought herein in the form of an injunction.” Read the rest of this entry »

In Court, Guantánamo Prisoner Shaker Aamer Asks for Independent Medical Evaluation

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 sign the international petition calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, which currently has over 4,900 signatures. Please also see the declarations by Clive Stafford Smith and Ramzi Kassem.

On Tuesday, lawyers for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, filed a motion with the District Court in Washington D.C., seeking to persuade Judge Rosemary Collyer to compel the US government to “permit his examination by a medical expert of his choice,” retained by his lawyers.

Mr. Aamer’s legal team, who include Ramzi Kassem of City University of New York School of Law (who made this new motion available to me), Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, and David Remes, note that, although their client was cleared for release from Guantánamo “years ago by the US government’s own interagency process,” he is still held, and, they maintain, “An examination by an independent medical expert is needed for the Court to exercise its jurisdiction meaningfully by accurately assessing the reliability and voluntariness of any statements Mr. Aamer reportedly gave American (and any other) interrogators.”

Mr. Kassem and the other lawyers also state that an independent medical examination will aid the Court and the lawyers “in determining if Mr. Aamer can fully participate in his habeas proceedings.” As in the cases of the majority of the prisoners still held, Mr. Aamer has not had a judge rule on the merits of his habeas corpus petition, even though the Supreme Court recognized over five years ago, in Boumediene v. Bush, in June 2008, that the prisoners at Guantánamo have constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights. Read the rest of this entry »

London Events: Afghan War Protest, and Vigils for Talha Ahsan and Shaker Aamer, October 5-9, 2013

 I quickly want to point out three forthcoming events for very worthy causes — two tomorrow (Saturday October 5) and one next Wednesday (October 9).

Tomorrow afternoon, at 4pm, I’ll be attending an event to mark the 12th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan. This is a horrible anniversary for two particular reasons: firstly, because, as a the father of a 13-year old, it is unacceptable to me that my country has been engaged in permanent war for almost all of his life; and secondly, because, as a writer and activist on Guantánamo, I am aware that the context for the imprisonment of the majority of the men at Guantánamo was the invasion of Afghanistan — where the Geneva Conventions were first discarded, where torture became Standard Operating Procedure, and where indefinite detention without charge or trial became official US policy.

12 years on, and nearly five years after President Obama took office promising to close Guantánamo, his failure to close the prison is a disgrace, and the continued US military presence in Afghanistan continues to demonstrate what a knowledgable friend has described as America snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. I can only hope that the major withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan next year will play a part in bringing our warmongering to an end — although I have no rosy illusions about that — and will also severely damage the rationale for continuing to keep Guantánamo open, but in the meantime, to mark this anniversary, I’m taking part in the event below: Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington: An Archive of Guantánamo Articles and Other Writing – Part 12, January to June 2012

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Since March 2006, I have been researching and writing about Guantánamo and the 779 men (and boys) held there, initially through my book The Guantánamo Files, and, since May 2007, as a full-time independent investigative journalist, assiduously chronicling the crimes of the Bush administration, and for the last four years and 10 months, President Obama’s failure to close the prison, as he promised, as well as the obstacles raised by Congress and parts of the judiciary.

In an effort to make it as easy as possible for readers and researchers to find my work, I began, three years ago, to put together chronological lists of all my articles, in the hope that they will provide a useful tool for navigation, and will provide researchers — and anyone else interested in this particularly bleak period of modern history — with a practical archive. Unfortunately, time restraints left me unable to find the time to make lists for my work from the start of 2012 onwards, so I’m remedying this now with a list covering all my articles from January to June 2012, and will follow up soon with two further articles covering July to December 2012 and January to June this year.

In this period, as well as relentlessly covering Guantánamo, I was also involved in campaigning to try to save the NHS from a full-on assault by the Tory-led government here in the UK, intent of privatising it, as well as, more broadly, resisting the age of austerity cynically introduced by the Tories to wage a disgusting and disgraceful civil war against the poor, the unemployed and the disabled. These are themes that continue to inform my work, as well as the horrors of Guantánamo, torture and indefinite detention. As a famous saying states, “The mark of a civilised society is how it treats its most vulnerable members.” Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington Talks to Voice of Russia About the Perils of Blanket Surveillance

Please sign and share the petition, “EU leaders: Stop mass surveillance,” which, shamefully, has just under 5,000 signatures at the time of writing.

Last week, as the European Parliament’s Office of Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs released what Index on Censorship described as “a notably pointed briefing paper arguing for Europe to stop trusting American Internet services,” and Index on Censorship launched a petition on Change.org, entitled, “EU leaders: Stop mass surveillance,” which was also sponsored by numerous other organizations including Amnesty International, English PEN, Article 19, Privacy International, Open Rights Group and Liberty UK, I was called by Nima Green for the radio station Voice of Russia, and asked my thoughts.

Nima’s four and half minute broadcast is available here, and below is a transcript of the broadcast, in which I was pleased to be able to get my point across that blanket surveillance is unacceptable, and that our governments should only be allowed to specifically target those they regard as suspicious in a carefully managed manner with a clear command responsibility and legislation to back it up. I don’t agree with the other speaker in the broadcast, Margaret Gilmore of the Royal United Services Institute, who tries to play down the extent to which surveillance is used. 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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