Archive for December, 2013

Close Guantánamo Now: Andy Worthington’s US Tour on the 12th Anniversary of the Prison’s Opening, January 2014

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January 11, 2014 is the 12th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, an experiment in extraordinary rendition, torture and indefinite detention without charge or trial that should never have opened. Since 2011, I have been visiting the US on the anniversary, to take part in events to raise awareness of the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo, and to call for the prison’s closure (see here, here and here), and this year is the fourth occasion on which I have braved the sometimes inhospitable weather of America in January to add my voice to those of others calling for Guantánamo to be closed, and the third year in which I have done so as the co-founder, with the attorney Tom Wilner, of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, which we established on the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison in January 2012.

This year, I will be visiting from January 8 to 21, and taking part in events in New York, Washington D.C., San Francisco and Los Angeles (my first ever visit!) from January 9 to 17, mostly with Debra Sweet, the National Director of the campaigning group the World Can’t Wait, who has organized my trip. Debra has been organizing my visits to the US since 2009, and it will be wonderful to spend time with her and with the other participants in the various events we have planned — who include the investigative journalist Jason Leopold, psychologist and anti-torture writer and activist Jeffrey Kaye, the former SERE instructor and anti-torture campaigner Michael Kearns, and Todd Pierce, a former military defense attorney, who represented men at Guantánamo who were put forward for trials by military commission. We will, at some events, be showing the excellent documentary film “Doctors of the Dark Side,” directed by Martha Davis, and the full itinerary is below (also see the Facebook page here, and see here for Debra’s post about the tour). POSTSCRIPT Jan. 10: Debra is unable to take part in the tour because of a head injury sustained just before it began. Everyone involved in the tour wishes her a speedy recovery.

For the last five years, of course, the ownership of Guantánamo has been in the hands not of George W. Bush and the Republican Party, but of Barack Obama and the Democrats, and it has, for the most part, been a dispiriting experience watching as fine words turned to inaction. After promising to close the prison by January 2010, President Obama failed to keep that promise, and although he released 64 prisoners from February 2009 to September 2010, those releases almost ground to a halt for the next three years, after Congress imposed onerous restrictions on the release of prisoners, and the president didn’t think it was worthwhile spending political capital overriding lawmakers, even though he had the power to do so. Read the rest of this entry »

For Christmas, the Reverend Nicholas Mercer Calls for the Release of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo, Denounces UK Involvement in Torture

As I spend Christmas with family, I recall that, on this Christian holiday, which commemorates the birth of Jesus — drawing on an older tradition of celebrating the winter solstice, and the beginning of the sun’s rebirth after the shortest day of the year — there are other people who are unable to be with their families, including the men in Guantánamo who have been the focus of my work for the last eight years.

In the lull between opening presents and enjoying Christmas dinner, I’m pleased to have the opportunity to make available a recent article from the Huffington Post by Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, whose lawyers represent 15 prisoners still held at Guantánamo, including Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison.

I have been writing about Shaker’s case for the last eight years, and will continue to do so until he is freed, as his ongoing imprisonment is a disgrace that ought to disturb the Christmas dinners of the most senior representatives of two governments — the US and the UK — because there is, simply put, no good reason why he is still held, and is not back in London with his family.

The only reason he is still held is because, as an eloquent, forthright and intelligent man, and the foremost defender of the prisoners’ rights since they were first seized, mostly in Afghanistan and Pakistan 12 years ago, he has come to know more than most of the prisoners about the crimes committed by US officials, operatives and military personnel, and the complicity in these crimes of other countries’ representatives, including, of course, the UK. Read the rest of this entry »

How Congress Is Finally Helping President Obama to Release 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.

Following three years of presidential inertia on Guantánamo — after Congress imposed onerous restrictions on the release of prisoners, and President Obama refused to spend political capital bypassing or challenging lawmakers — legislative amendments proposed by the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by Sen. Carl Levin, have been accepted by Congress. The National Defense Authorization Act for 2014, which contains the amendments, was approved by the House of Representatives last week and passed the Senate by 84 votes to 15 on Thursday night.

The changes, which I wrote about last month in an article entitled, “Senate Passes Bill to Help Close Guantánamo; Now President Obama Must Act,” emerged from the committee in June. They were accepted by the Senate last month, after what the Associated Press described as “a quiet yet effective lobbying push” by senior administration officials, including President Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser Lisa Monaco and Cliff Sloan, the veteran diplomat appointed this year, along with Paul Lewis at the Pentagon, to be an envoy for the closure of Guantánamo. However, the House of Representatives, where Republicans have a majority, had voted to keep all the restrictions in place.

After the Senate vote last month, a compromise had to be thrashed out between the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, in which proposals to remove the onerous restrictions on the release of prisoners survived, but other proposals — allowing prisoners to be brought to the US for detention, for trials or for medical treatment — did not. Without these particular changes, it is still not possible for Guantánamo to be closed, but for now, at least, these amendments make it easier for the president to release prisoners who were cleared for release four years ago by his own high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force — and, perhaps even more importantly, reassure him that he has support for releasing prisoners in Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

Two Sudanese Prisoners Released from Guantánamo, 79 Cleared Prisoners Remain

As the 12th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay approaches (on January 11, 2014), the run of good news regarding the situation at the prison continues, with the news that two prisoners — Ibrahim Idris, 52, and Noor Uthman Muhammed, 51, have been released to Sudan, and the Senate has voted to ease restrictions imposed by Congress over the last three years. The release of the two men brings the number of prisoners released this year to eight, and the total number of prisoners still held to 158.

Until recently, there had been three years of inaction regarding Guantánamo, when just five prisoners were released by President Obama. This inaction had been caused because of opposition in Congress and the president’s refusal to spend political capital overcoming that opposition. Of the five men released, two — Ibrahim al-Qosi and Omar Khadr — were amongst the handful of prisoners regarded as so significant that they had been put forward for military commission trials, and had agreed to plea deals that stipulated how much longer they should be held, and three — an Algerian and two Uighurs, Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province — had their release ordered by a US judge, after they had their habeas corpus petitions granted (before the appeals court in Washington D.C. rewrote the habeas rules, so that no prisoner could be released through a legal challenge).

The three years of inaction came to an end in August, when two Algerian men — Nabil Hadjarab and Mutia Sayyab — were released, who, like over half the men still held, had been cleared for release by a high-level, inter-agency task force that President Obama appointed shortly after taking office in 2009. Their release followed a promise to resume releasing prisoners that President Obama made in a major speech on national security issues in May. Read the rest of this entry »

Omar Khadr Condemns His Guantánamo Plea Deal, As Canada Concedes He Is Not A “Maximum-Security Threat”

Good news from Canada, finally, as former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Khadr has been “reclassified as a medium-security risk,” and will be moved from Edmonton, where he is currently held as a maximum-security prisoner, to Bowden Correctional Institution, north of Calgary. The move will probably take place in the next few weeks, as the Edmonton Journal described it on Friday.

Khadr, who was just 15 years old when he was seized after a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002, has persistently been treated with disdain by the Canadian government, which, for ten years, failed to stand up for his rights as a Canadian citizen and a juvenile prisoner.

When Khadr finally agreed to a plea deal at Guantánamo, just to be sent home, the Canadian government dragged its heels regarding its own part of the bargain. After the plea deal was agreed, during his trial by military commission at Guantánamo in October 2010, Khadr was supposed to spend just one more year at Guantánamo followed by seven years’ imprisonment in Canada after his repatriation, but it took 23 months for him to be returned, and, since his return, he has been held as a maximum-security prisoner, even though he has never been a high-risk prisoner.

Dennis Edney, the Edmonton lawyer who has been representing Khadr for ten years, explained how the decision to reclassify Khadr as “medium-security,” which was taken by Kelly Hartle, the warden at Edmonton, “reflects a ‘plethora of evidence’ from US authorities and Canada’s prison ombudsman that Khadr never was a maximum-security threat,” as the Edmonton Journal described it. Read the rest of this entry »

The Stories of the Two Guantánamo Prisoners Released to Saudi Arabia

I wrote a version of the following article, under the heading, “Who Are the Two Guantánamo Prisoners Released to Saudi Arabia?” 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 December 16, the Pentagon announced that two Guantánamo prisoners — Saad al-Qahtani and Hamoud al-Wady — had been released to Saudi Arabia over the weekend. In the Miami Herald, veteran Guantánamo reporter Carol Rosenberg noted that, ”according to government sources, the Saudi repatriations, carried out in a secret operation Saturday night, were voluntary.”

The Obama administration is to be commended for releasing these two men, as it shows a commitment to the promise to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo that President Obama made in May, after a two and a half year period in which just five prisoners were released, even though over half of the 160-plus prisoners held throughout this period were cleared for release in January 2010 by a high-level, inter-agency task force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009. These releases bring the prison’s total population to 160 prisoners, of whom 80 have been cleared for release.

The release of prisoners had largely ground to a halt because Congress had imposed onerous restrictions on the Obama administration, requiring certifications to be made guaranteeing that no released prisoner would be able to take up arms or engage in terrorism against the US — promises that were extremely difficult, if not impossible to make. Read the rest of this entry »

“Close Guantánamo,” Says Prison’s First Commander, Adds That It “Should Never Have Been Opened”

In an important op-ed for the Detroit Free Press, Maj. Gen. Mike Lehnert of the Marines, the first commander of Guantánamo, has called for the closure of the prison. Maj. Gen. Lehnert built the open air cages of Camp X-Ray, the “war on terror” prison’s first incarnation, in just four days prior to the arrival of the first prisoners on January 11, 2002.

As I explained in my book The Guantánamo Files, Lehnert initially bought into the hyperbole and propaganda about the prisoners, stating, soon after the prison opened, “These represent the worst elements of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. We asked for the worst guys first.” However, he soon changed his mind. In early February 2002, he provided an important insight into how, contrary to what senior Bush administration officials were saying in public, the uncomfortable truth was they they had no idea who most of the prisoners were. “A large number claim to be Taliban, a smaller number we have been able to confirm as al-Qaeda, and a rather large number in the middle we have not been able to determine their status,” he said, adding, “Many of the detainees are not forthcoming. Many have been interviewed as many as four times, each time providing a different name and different information.”

Unfortunately, the Bush administration responded not by acknowledging that it had, with a handful of exceptions, bought and rounded up civilians and low-level Taliban conscripts, but by aggressively interrogating the men over many years and, in many cases, introducing a torture program involving prolonged sleep deprivation, isolation, humiliation, the use of loud music and noise, and the exploitation of phobias. This produced copious amounts of information, as was revealed when WikiLeaks released classified military files relating to the prisoners in April 2011, but much of it was fundamentally unreliable. Read the rest of this entry »

Hunger Strike Resumes at Guantánamo, as Shaker Aamer Loses 30 Pounds in Weight

In alarming news from Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, has stated that the prisoners have renewed the hunger strike that, earlier this year, involved at least two-thirds of the remaining prisoners, and reawakened the world’s media to the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo.

The hunger strike provided evidence of the men’s despair, after eleven years’ imprisonment without charge or trial, in an experimental prison where they are still in a legal limbo, held neither as criminal suspects nor as prisoners of war. Their despair was heightened by the fact that 82 of them were cleared for release in January 2010 — nearly four years ago — by a high-level Presidential task force, and yet they are still held, and 80 others are, for the most part, detained without charge or trial, and with no sign of when, if ever, they might either be tried or released. As I explained in a recent article for Al-Jazeera, long-promised reviews for most of these 80 men have recently begun, but the process is both slow and uncertain.

In a recent phone call with Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, the legal action charity whose lawyers represent 15 men still at Guantánamo, Shaker “revealed there are now 29 Guantánamo hunger strikers, including him, of whom 19 are being force-fed,” as the Observer described it on Sunday.

“The hunger strike is back on,” Shaker said, adding, “The number is increasing almost every day.” He also explained that he has been on the new hunger strike for almost a month and has lost 30 pounds in weight. On November 8 he weighed 188 pounds, and he now weighs 158 pounds. Read the rest of this entry »

Save the NHS: Sign the Petition to Stop Jeremy Hunt Closing Hospitals at Will + Lewisham Hospital Xmas Single

Please sign the petition to save our hospitals!

Just over 13 months ago, residents of the London Borough of Lewisham launched a campaign against proposals — by senior NHS managers — to severely downgrade services at Lewisham Hospital. To pay for the debts of a neighbouring NHS trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, which had nothing to do with Lewisham (and were, in part, because of ruinously expensive PFI deals for two new hospitals), Matthew Kershaw, an NHS Special Administrator, appointed by the outgoing health secretary Andrew Lansley, proposed closing Lewisham’s A&E Department, which would have had a catastrophic effect on all other acute services. Lewisham’s acclaimed children’s A&E Department would have closed, and nine out of ten mothers in a borough of 270,000 people would have been unable to give birth at Lewisham Hospital, in case there were any complications. The A&E chosen to replace Lewisham — at Queen Elizabeth Hiospital in Woolwich, one of the SLHT’s financially troubled hospitals — is miles away, and would be required to serve not just the population of Greenwich and Lewisham, but Bexley as well, a total of three quarters of a million people.

Through a campaign led by a wonderful team of activists, local residents and medical personnel, and 25,000 people prepared to march through the streets of Lewisham in January this year, the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign — and Lewisham Council — eventually won. Although Jeremy Hunt, the current health secretary, approved Kershaw’s proposals in January, the campaigners and the council launched two judicial reviews, on the basis that the legislation used to deal with the indebted trust, the Unsustainable Providers Regime, didn’t allow the government to draw neighbouring hospitals into plans for dealing with failed NHS trusts.

The Lewisham campaigners secured a powerful victory in the judicial reviews, in July, but Hunt then appealed, losing again in October. This should have been the end of the story, but the ghoulish Hunt is back for a third time, this time with what is being called the “hospital closure clause” — Clause 118 of the current Care Bill, which is being debated by parliament next week. Read the rest of this entry »

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

Please support my work!

Dear friends and supporters,

It’s the third day of my quarterly fundraiser, in which I ask you, if you can, to support my work on Guantánamo and related issues as a freelance investigative journalist. If you can help out at all, please click on the “Donate” button above to donate via PayPal.

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.

Although I receive some support for my work on the “Close Guantánamo” campaign and website, most of what I do is unpaid — or, to be more accurate, is reader-supported. A donation of $25 (£15) is just $2 (or £1) a week for the next three months, which, I hope, isn’t too much to ask to help me to continue to write the five articles I publish on average every week. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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