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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.
This year, this inertia was finally challenged by the prisoners themselves, who, in desperation, embarked on a prison-wide hunger strike that succeeded in waking up the world’s media to the message that those dedicate dot the prison’s closure — myself included — had been emphasizing since the inertia began; namely, that over half of the remaining prisoners had been cleared for release by a high-level, inter-agency task force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in 2009, and that continuing to hold men cleared for release was profoundly unjust and cruel; and, more generally, that the continued existence of the prison, and its default purpose of enshrining indefinite detention without charge or trial as something normal and not dangerously unacceptable, was intolerable.
As a result of the outrage generated by the hunger strike, President Obama was finally obliged to act, which he did in May by promising to appoint new envoys in the Pentagon and the State Department to assist with the release of prisoners and the eventual closure of Guantánamo, and to resume the release of prisoners.
Progress was initially slow, but envoys have now been appointed (Paul Lewis at the Pentagon and Cliff Sloan in the State Department), and prisoner releases have resumed — two men in August, and six more in December — bringing the prison’s population down to 158 men, exactly half of whom (79 men in total) were cleared for release by the Guantánamo Review Task Force, whose final report, after nearly a year of deliberations, was published four years ago, in January 2010.
More releases need to follow, as soon as possible — and, in particular, the deadlock regarding the Yemenis, who make up two-thirds of the 79 men cleared for release but still held, needs to be addressed — but this is undoubtedly progress, and it means that, for the first time on the anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, the message that campaigners calling for the closure of the prison will be sending to President Obama will be both to encourage him to continue with what he has started, as well as reminding him that further inertia is not acceptable.
Thursday January 9, 2014, 7 pm: Screening of ”Doctors of the Dark Side,” followed by Q&A with Andy Worthington, Todd Pierce and Debra Sweet
All Souls Church, 1157 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10075.
After arriving in New York City on January 8, this will be Andy Worthington’s first public event as part of the January 2014 “Close Guantánamo” US tour, featuring a screening of the powerful documentary film, “Doctors of the Dark Side,” directed by Martha Davis, followed by a Q&A session with Andy, Todd Pierce, a former military defense attorney, who represented men at Guantánamo who were put forward for trials by military commission, and Debra Sweet.
Co-sponsored by All Souls Church, No More Guantánamos, Psychologists for Social Responsibility and Revolution Books.
See the event page here.
Friday January 10, 2014, 5.30 pm: Screening of ”Doctors of the Dark Side,” followed by Q&A with Andy Worthington, Todd Pierce and Debra Sweet
Festival Center, 1640 Columbia Road NW, Washington, D.C. 20009.
On January 10, Andy Worthington, Debra Sweet and Todd Pierce travel from New York to Washington D.C. for a protest on January 11, the 12th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay. The evening before, they will take part in a Q&A session following a screening of the powerful documentary film, “Doctors of the Dark Side,” directed by Martha Davis.
See the event page here.
Saturday January 11, 2014, 12 noon: Close Guantánamo Protest, White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C. 20500.
“12 Years Too Many, No More Excuses, Close Guantánamo” is the tagline for the January 11 Day of Action to close Guantánamo. At 12 noon, there will be speakers outside the White House, followed by a procession to the Capitol and the Supreme Court beginning at 1 pm. The event ends at 2:30 pm.
Organized by groups including Amnesty International, Center for Constitutional Rights, Close Guantánamo, Code Pink, National Religious Coalition Against Torture, Witness Against Torture and World Can’t Wait.
As the organizers state, “This January 11, 2014 marks the unacceptable 12th anniversary of indefinite detention without charge or trial at Guantánamo. Join us in Washington, D.C. to witness this anniversary together, and to call on President Obama to finally fulfill his broken promise to shut it down. Obama has the power to close Guantánamo, and the new National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA 2014) just approved by Congress makes it even easier for him to do so. 158 men remain detained at Guantánamo; most should never have been detained in the first place and are entering their 13th year of being deprived of their liberty without any charge or trial. They must be tried in a fair court or released; Guantánamo must be shut down.”
See the Facebook page here.
Monday January 13, 2014, 5.30 pm: Guantánamo and Us: The Ethics and Politics of Extraordinary Detention — A discussion with Andy Worthington, Jeffrey Kaye, Michael Kearns, Debra Sweet and Adam Hudson
Stanford University, 3rd Floor Common Room/Room 200, Old Union, 520 Lasuen Mall, Palo Alto, CA.
On January 12, Andy Worthington and Debra Sweet fly to San Francisco for five days of “Close Guantánamo” events, beginning on January 13 with this special discussion at Stanford University with Andy, Debra, Jeffrey Kaye, Michael Kearns and Adam Hudson. Jeffrey Kaye is a psychologist active in the anti-torture movement, who works clinically with torture victims at Survivors International in San Francisco. His blog is Invictus. Michael Kearns is a retired Air Force Captain, and a former instructor on the SERE program, which teaches US military personnel to resist torture if captured by enemy forces. He is a former colleague of Bruce Jessen, who, with James Mitchell, reverse-engineered SERE techniques for use in the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” to Capt. Kearns’ horror. Also speaking is Adam Hudson, a journalist, writer, and photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
This event is organized by Stanford Says No to War and the Progressive Christians at Stanford. See SSNW’s Facebook page here. Also see World Can’t Wait’s event page here.
Tuesday January 14, 2014, 12 noon: Close Guantánamo event, with Andy Worthington & Debra Sweet
UC Hastings College of the Law, 200 McAllister Street, San Francisco, CA 94102.
On January 14, Andy Worthington and Debra Sweet discuss the situation at Guantánamo, as the prison begins its 13th year of operations. Andy will have the opportunity to discuss at length the problems that have led to the prison remaining open.
See the event page here. This event is sponsored by the Hastings chapters of the National Lawyers Guild and the American Constitution Society, and the Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal.
Tuesday January 14, 2014, 7 pm: Screening of ”Doctors of the Dark Side,” followed by Q&A with Andy Worthington and Debra Sweet
Revolution Books, 2425 Channing Way, near Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94704.
On the evening of January 14, Andy Worthington and Debra Sweet will be speaking about Guantánamo and torture in a Q&A session following a screening of “Doctors of the Dark Side.”
See the Revolution Books website here. For further information, call 510-848-1196.
Wednesday January 15, 2014, 11.30 am: Martin Luther King Luncheon with Interfaith Communities United for Justice & Peace, featuring keynote speaker Andy Worthington
Holman United Methodist Church, 3320 W. Adams, Los Angeles, CA 90018.
Andy Griggs has been working to get Andy Worthington to LA as a speaker on Guantánamo for many years, and this event will provide an opportunity for Andy to speak in detail about the reasons that Guantánamo is still open.
Suggested donation $20, but no one turned away. For further information, contact Andy Griggs by email or call 310-704-3217. See the event page here.
Wednesday January 15, 2014, 7 pm: Screening of ”Doctors of the Dark Side,” followed by Q&A with Andy Worthington, Jason Leopold and Debra Sweet
Revolution Books, 5726 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90028.
On the evening of January 15, Andy Worthington and Debra Sweet will be joined by investigative journalist Jason Leopold for a Q&A session following a screening of “Doctors of the Dark Side.” Jason Leopold, who writes for Al-Jazeera, is an investigative reporter covering Guantánamo, counterterrorism, national security, human rights, open government and civil liberties issues. This will be Jason and Andy’s first appearance together since Andy’s last West Coast visit in January 2012.
See the event page here. For further information, call Nicole Lee on 323-463-3500.
Thursday January 16, 2014, 7 pm: Orange County Peace Coalition “Close Guantánamo” event, with Andy Worthington, Jason Leopold and Debra Sweet
Unitarian Universalist Church, 511 S Harbor Blvd., Anaheim, CA 92805.
Andy and Jason continue their reunion with another event looking at the situation at Guantánamo now, and what steps can be taken to keep pressure on the Obama administration to continue releasing prisoners.
Sponsored by IUCC Advocates for Peace and Justice, Orange County Peace Coalition, and Pax Christi Orange County. For further information please email Orange County Peace Coalition.
Friday January 17, 2014, 7 am: Breakfast with Interfaith Communities United for Justice & Peace, featuring keynote speaker Andy Worthington
Immanuel Presbyterian Church, 3300 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90010.
Following the lunch event on January 15, this event will provide another opportunity for Interfaith Communities United for Justice & Peace and anyone else interested in the closure of Guantánamo to hear Andy Worthington talk about the prison as it begins its 13th year of operations.
For further information, contact Andy Griggs by email or call 310-704-3217.
Friday January 17, 2014, 7 pm: Close Guantánamo event, with Andy Worthington, Dennis Loo and Debra Sweet
Cal Poly Pomona, Bronco Student Center, Orion Room, 3801 W. Temple Avenue, Pomona, CA 91768.
For the last public event of the “Close Guantánamo” US tour, Andy Worthington and Debra Sweet will be joined by Dennis Loo, Professor of Sociology at Cal Poly Pomona, who is on the Steering Committee of World Can’t Wait. See his website here.
See the event page here.
On January 18, Andy returns to New York, and flies back to the UK on January 20.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here – or here for the US).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
On Facebook, Jason Leopold wrote:
Looking forward to this Andy! Excited to see you!
Yes, very much looking forward to seeing you, Jason!
Toshi Osaki wrote:
Thank you for coming to L.A.!
I hope you’ll be able to come along to an event, Toshi! Thanks for the supportive words.
Jenifer Fenton wrote:
Hope we see each other in NY
Jen, I too hope we can get to see each other. Can you email me, and I’ll work out when I have some free time. Where are you? I’ll be in Brooklyn – although obviously I’ll be hoping to squeeze in a few visits to Manhattan when I can! I arrive on Jan. 8, head down to DC on Jan. 10, arrive back from the West Coast on Jan. 18, and catch a flight back to the UK on the evening of Jan. 20.
John Pope wrote:
thanks for never giving up Andy.
Thanks for the kind words, John. Much appreciated.
Judy Ajifu wrote:
When are you in San Francisco, Andy?
I fly from DC to San Francisco on Sunday Jan. 12, Judy, and am doing an event at Stanford University on Monday Jan. 13 at 5.30, and two events on Tuesday Jan. 14 – at Hastings Lw School at noon, and at Revolution Books at 7pm (with a screening of “Doctors of the Dark Side”). Full details in the post: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2013/12/29/close-guantanamo-now-andy-worthingtons-us-tour-on-the-12th-anniversary-of-the-prisons-opening-january-2014/
On Facebook, Andy Moss shared the article and wrote:
Go see Andy Worthington in NYC, SF or LA if you can.
Thanks for sharing, Andy. I wish I had time to visit Chicago. However, I do hope, later in the year, to visit again for a mini-tour to promote a book of my writing that I’m planning to publish, which, if it happens, will include Chicago. I have seven years of material online, so I’m sure I can choose some of those articles to collect into book form to tell the story of what has – or hasn’t – happened since I wrote “The Guantanamo Files” in 2006-07. And if there’s anyone out there interested in helping in any way, do get in touch!
Willy Bach wrote:
Sharing, Andy. Good luck with the US tour.
Thanks, Willy. Great to hear from you. I hope all was well with you over the holiday period.
Gioia Coppola wrote:
thank you. take care, xx
You’re welcome, Gioia. Thanks for the support!
Jeffrey Kaye wrote:
Great, Andy. I’m very much looking forward to seeing you, though the fact we must still be out there talking, trying to convince people about torture, is a very sad fact to reflect upon.
Very sad indeed, Jeff, that we’re required to be out there year after year, but as you know from history these kinds of monstrosities can, unfortunately, take decades to address. The problem this time around, it seems to me, is that it’s uncertain if there will be accountability, or if this is actually the start of the new dark ages, in which torture becomes accepted as something macho and necessary. However, at least “Zero Dark Thirty” isn’t opening in theaters this time around, and I am very much looking forward to spending some time with you.
Deborah A Schuster wrote:
Glad to see you posting again.
Just having a bit of a break over the Christmas and New Year period, Deborah. Normal service will resume shortly!
Jennah Solace wrote:
Good luck and God-speed
Thanks, Jennah, for the kind wishes. I believe I have not yet thanked you for a parcel that arrived just before Christmas. That was very generous of you.
Happy New Year 2014 and may the New Year see the end of Gitmo.
Thank you, Thomas. A Happy New Year too to you and yours, and as you know I couldn’t agree more about the need to see Guantanamo closed once and for all.
Andy, apparently the Slovakian government announced they would be accepting three Uyghur captives back on 2013-12-27 — but it is only being widely reported today. As usual Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald offers a good perspective. Out of Guantánamo: December releases signal renewed effort
Reuters reports that the Slovakian government has pointed out that all of the captives it has offered asylum to had “never been suspected of nor charged with a criminal act of terrorism”.
I see this as a significant dig at previous generations of US negotiators, who insisted each released captive had to be the subject of a bilateral agreement, and that each captive’s bilateral agreement had to include expensive, onerous, draconian security measures, to assure the US the former captives could not pose a risk in future.
Years of covert surveillance, or even parole-like sign-ins — these security measures aren’t legal in countries that respect the rule of law — not when there is no evidence the individuals ever committed or contemplated committing a crime.
I am going to take the liberty of repeating part of the comment I left to Carol Rosenberg’s article:
Reuters reports that the Slovakian government released a statement that said the men had: “never been suspected of nor charged with a criminal act of terrorism”.
Since negotiations over the return of Bisher al-Rawi to the UK got stalled, and frustrated UK negotiators leaked the details, we have known that a significant roadblock to closing the camp was that US negotiators wanted to insist that the nations that accpted the former captives impose on them onerous, expensive, draconian security measures. The frustrated UK negotiators leaked that the USA wanted the UK to tap their phones and place all the returning captives on 24×7 surveillance.
Of course, as a country that respects the rule of law, the UK couldn’t use these kinds of surveillance techniques against men for whom there was no evidence that they had ever planned to commit a crime.
The Slovakian announcement implies to me that they rejected US attempts to impose upon them measures more suitable in a police state — or that US negotiators have accepted that such measures are a waste of effort.
Thanks, arcticredriver. I’ve been having a few days off, hence the fact that I haven’t yet written about the release of the Uighurs. I think the draconian measures you mention have generally been an aspiration rather than a reality on the part of the US, because other countries have rightly concluded that it is unacceptable treatment for men treated so abysmally and never charged with anything. Unfortunately, I think it helped supporters of Guantanamo to dream up the restrictions on the release of prisoners that Congress imposed for the last three years, which largely brought a halt to prisoner releases because President Obama refused to take a position of leadership on the issue. That said, until Obama releases some Yemenis, the reality is that all the restrictions still stand, and the kind of unacceptable security measures you mention are still being called for. Sadly, I find, far too much mainstream reporting doesn’t question why it should be even remotely acceptable for there to be onerous security measures in place for prisoners who, long ago, a high-level task force cleared for release.
Andy, you are so hard-working, I am sure all your readers would encourage you to take time for yourself and for your family.
As to what extent the security measures have been aspirational:
I’d say that the McClatchy interviews revealed that many of the Afghan captives remained on some kind of parole, where they had to report in to Police HQ once a week.
The captives transferred to Italy were all promptly charged, convicted, and if I recall correctly, received heavy sentences.
Most of the French citizens faced charges, and had to go through years of appeals.
The first five Uyghurs, even though they had been cleared of all suspicion by their CSR Tribunals, were confined to their refugee camp. They were on a kind of day parole.
The Uyghurs transferred to Palau or Bermuda are constitutionally ineligible to apply for citizenship, and get a passport.
You have met most of the UK citizens and UK residents who were held in Guantanamo. I know one of those fellows was charged with assault. UK press reports described the former captive feeling a spurt of fear and rage when he saw a parking enforcement officer take a picture of his car, as part of giving him a traffic ticket, and he saw it as part of UK security officials clandestine monitoring of him. Didn’t Moazzam Begg recently have his passport de-authorized? Was that part of continuing monitoring by UK security officials? What do the former captives think?
IMO, while not as unpleasant as actual incarceration, forcing individuals to report to their police station, or placing their phone under a warrantless wiretap, or allowing the NSA, CSEC, GCHQ to monitor their email, is the same kind of transgression as years of extrajudicial detention.
It is intimidating. The 66 men McClatchy interviewed seemed disproportionately clinically depressed and fearful. They felt helpless. Some of them described how they feared their weekly check-ins at Police HQ would make the Taliban regard them as informants or collaborators, and that this put their lives at risk.
I agree that almost all reporters, even those I respect, have failed to challenge the bilateral secret negotiation model of prisoner transfer.
We know that some of the poorer countries which have accepted former captives either received covert payoffs for doing so, or worse, the decision makers may have received covert personal payoffs.
The year that Palau accepted the transfer of its Uyghur guests Palau received a generous transfer payment. It became the subject of a couple of local controversies there. IIRC one controversy focussed on relatives of the then President getting untendered agreements to house the Uyghurs, or build housing for them — presumably financed by the USA. IIRC another controversy focussed on the stipend the men initially received, because they didn’t speak Palaun, and had no local job skills or contacts. After a couple of years they stopped receiving the stipend. Reporting was pretty clear the stipend came directly from the USA. Implied was that poor accounting standards had allowed insiders in the Palau government had been able to drain the pay-off that was nominally to provide those stipends.
How many men would still be at Guantanamo if the USA had published a list of the men they felt ready to release unconditionally, and if they had published a list of those men they were ready to transfer if security measures satisfied them? What if they had been open that the countries willing to relieve them of the burden of holding men in extrajudicial detention could expect a transfer payment, and had let countries bid to accept them? What if they had to defend openly their suspicions against these men?
I believe most of those suspicions would evaporate. The secrecy intelligence officials have been allowed has served public safety very very poorly.
Of course the captives should have always been allowed to veto transfers to countries where they didn’t feel safe.
Thanks, arcticredriver. You make some very interesting points, to which I can only really add that in some cases you mention, and in others you don’t, attempts were made to ensure that those released were actually imprisoned on their return rather than being monitored or subjected to parole-like conditions. This, for example, happened to the Afghans returned after August 2007, after a wing of Kabul’s main prison, Pol-i-Charki, had been refurbished with US money, and this situation only changed when challenged by the men’s US lawyers and the Karzai government. And in the end, of course, US lawmakers decided they didn’t want any more Afghans released under any circumstances, following the dubious reports about recidivism that emerged regularly from the DoD and the DNI.
The Italian example you mention – of two Tunisian nationals sent to to Italy and subsequently prosecuted – was unusual, and I believe the example of the French prisoners shows what happened when the US aspiration – for continued imprisonment and/or prosecution – was followed up on, unlike, for example, in the UK. The former French prisoners certainly endured long years of legal pursuit by the state, but I don’t believe that it ended successfully for the French government. I do, however, think that other countries more aggressively monitored or harassed former prisoners – Saudi Arabia, for example, where I think a case can be made that only some prisoners went through rehabilitation, while others, as I have heard over the years, have been treated disdainfully by the government, and subjected to arbitrary imprisonment. One day, this should be more thoroughly investigated.
As for the Uighurs, that particular arrangement, in Albania, involved them being placed in a UN-controlled refugee camp.
I honestly think that the biggest problem has been the opaque system whereby countries have largely been bribed – or have volunteered for a bribe – to take in former prisoners who could not be safely repatriated, and the fact that there is no transparent system in place to determine how these men should be treated, hence the problems in Slovakia for the men freed there in 2010, who went on a hunger strike in protest, and the largely unreported problems in other countries.
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