Archive for January, 2014

Video: On the 12th Anniversary of the Opening of Guantánamo, Former Prisoner Sami Al-Haj Speaks

A hallucinatory image of force-feeding at Guantanamo by Sami al-Haj, as reproduced by British artist Lewis PeakeLate last year, as the coalition of groups calling for the closure of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba began deliberations for this year’s protest on the anniversary of the prison’s opening (on January 11), I reached out — as part of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign — to Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity, founded and led by Clive Stafford Smith, whose lawyers represent 15 prisoners still held at Guantánamo.

As we discussed ways to publicize the plight of the prisoners on the 12th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, Reprieve suggested asking Sami al-Haj, a Sudanese prisoner released in 2008, to record a video statement that could be used, and I’m delighted to note that Sami agreed, and his video message to President Obama is posted below.

Sami is the only journalist to have been held at Guantánamo, and he was working as a cameraman for Al-Jazeera when he was seized on assignment crossing from Pakistan to Afghanistan in December 2001. I subsequently covered his story, in particular in the months before his release, when he had embarked on a hunger strike and was providing information to the world about it via Clive. In this period, he also made a number of drawings about the hunger strike. When these were seized by the Pentagon’s censors, Reprieve described them to a British cartoonist, Lewis Peake, who recreated them based on the descriptions, and I told Sami’s story, and reproduced the drawings, in an article entitled, “Sami al-Haj: the banned torture pictures of a journalist in Guantánamo.” Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer in Guantánamo: I Am “239,” a “Package”; If My Children Call Me Daddy, Will I Know Who I Am?

On the 12th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, I can think of no better person to remind the world of the ongoing injustice of the prison than Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who has persistently challenged the cruelty and idiocy of his captors in the most articulate manner.

I have been writing about Shaker, who has been cleared for release since 2007, and who longs to be reunited with his wife and his four children in south London, for many years, and last year, when the men still held embarked on a prison-wide hunger strike to remind the world of their plight, Shaker’s words — issued via Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal action charity Reprieve, following phone calls with Shaker — regularly provided a powerful and informative commentary on the realities of life in the prison, as can readily be ascertained from the following accounts: From Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer Tells His Lawyer Disturbing Truths About the Hunger Strike, “People Are Dying Here,” Shaker Aamer Reports from Guantánamo, As Petition Calling for His Release Secures 100,000 Signatures and From Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer Tells BBC He Is “Falling Apart Like An Old Car”, as well as Shaker’s own op-eds in the Observer (in May), the Guardian (in June) and the Huffington Post (in November). Please also check out the CBS “60 Minutes” broadcast from Guantánamo, which was powerfully hijacked by Shaker shouting from his cell to attract the attention of Lesley Stahl.

Via Clive, Shaker has provided a statement that will be read out at today’s protest outside the White House, which I will be posting here very soon, but for now it’s my great pleasure to cross-post Shaker’s latest op-ed, as published last Sunday in the Observer, in which he reflected on his own dehumanization by his captors, and also highlighted the extent to which the US has betrayed the values it once upheld in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the basis of “national security” — which, sadly, has in fact been used by the authorities for 12 years as an excuse for numerous criminal activities for which no one has been held accountable, and which continue to keep 155 men at Guantánamo, mostly without charge or trial, and even though 77 of them have been cleared for release. Read the rest of this entry »

On the 12th Anniversary of the Opening of Guantánamo, Please Write to the Prisoners

Every six months, I put out a call for people to write to the prisoners in Guantánamo, to let them know that they have not been forgotten, and to let the US authorities know that people are watching what they do at Guantánamo.

The letter-writing campaign was started three years ago by two Facebook friends, Shahrina J. Ahmed and Mahfuja Bint Ammu, and it has been repeated every six months (see here, here, here, here and here).

In previous calls for people to write letters, I specifically referred to the men still held as the “forgotten prisoners,” but I have not chosen to do so this time, because, last year, people began to wake up, in significant numbers, to the fact that Guantánamo is still open and to remember the men who had indeed been largely forgotten, at least since 2010, when the one-year deadline for President Obama’s promise to close the prison expired with a whimper.

Last year over a million people signed two petitions calling for the closure of Guantánamo (see here and here), and it was because of the prisoners themselves that their plight was brought back into the international spotlight. The prisoners did this through a prison-wide hunger strike, which reminded the world’s media that Guantánamo is a legal, moral and ethical abomination, a place where the men still held — 155 in total — are, for the most part, indefinitely detained without charge or trial, even though nearly half of them — 76 men — were cleared for release four years ago by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force. Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo with Chris Cook on Gorilla Radio

On Monday evening in Canada (early on Tuesday morning in London), I was delighted to speak to Chris Cook for his well-respected and long running Gorilla Radio show in British Columbia, in Canada. The MP3 of the hour-long show is here, and Chris and I spoke for the first half-hour.

In reviewing my activities, I see that Chris and I spoke for the first time three years ago, in January 2011, when we spoke about Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks, and, of course, Guantánamo, and this week we were revisiting Guantánamo, on the eve of the 12th anniversary of its opening (On Saturday January 11), as I prepared to fly out to the US for a two-week tour to call for the prison’s closure, and, hopefully, to help people understand why it is so important that the prison is finally closed, five years after President Obama first took office, promising to close it within a year. My itinerary, for my visit from January 8-21, is here.

Even putting aside the torture that was official policy at Guantánamo from 2002 to 2004, the Indefinite detention without charge or trial that is at the very heart of Guantánamo’s operations is an affront to the values that America claims to believe in, and this is true every second that the prison remains open.

Chris and I talked about the progress made recently — the action promised by President Obama last year after a prison-wide hunger strike awakened the world to the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo, and the release, in the last few months, of eleven prisoners. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign and the Need to Defend the NHS on Radio Free Brighton

Just before Christmas I took part in a show about the threat to the NHS from the Tory-led coalition government (and from senior managers within the NHS) on the excellent community radio station Radio Free Brighton, which is based in Brighton, funnily enough, and was set up by my good friend Jackie Chase. I spoke about the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign, and its success, over the last 15 months, in preventing the government’s plans to severely downgrade services at the hospital as part of proposals for dealing with the debts of a neighbouring NHS trust, although it is impossible to talk about Lewisham in isolation, as the threats we faced in south east London are echoed around the country.

The half-hour show, which is available here, was presented by Davy Jones, the Green Party Parliamentary Candidate for Kemptown, and the other guest was Madeleine Dickens of Brighton Save the NHS (part of the “Keep Our NHS Public” network of campaigning groups). Jackie also provided some insights from her time as a nurse. What brought us all together was not only our concern for the NHS, which faces an unprecedented threat (from the Tories who are privatising it at an alarming rate, and from its own senior managers, who have talked themselves into believing that savage cuts to services can somehow improve clinical outcomes), but also our mutual interest in the role played in these developments by Matthew Kershaw.

When the plans for Lewisham were sprung upon us last October, just before Halloween, the suitably ghoulish figure elevated to the role of chief executioner (or the NHS Special Administrator, as he was known) was Matthew Kershaw, and when his work at Lewisham was done (and his proposals approved by Jeremy Hunt, only to be overturned in summer by a high court judge following two judicial reviews), Kershaw moved to Brighton, where he was appointed the Chief Executive of Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals (BSUH), which runs the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton and the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath.

Unsurprisingly, given his experience of taking a hatchet to services, one of Kershaw’s first acts as the new CEO last spring was to announce £30 million of cuts, prompting widespread alarm in Brighton and Haywards Heath. Read the rest of this entry »

The Last Three Uighurs Are Freed from Guantánamo; 76 Cleared Prisoners Remain

As was reported on New Year’s Eve by Carol Rosenberg in the Miami Herald, one of Guantánamo’s burning injustices has finally been addressed with the release — to Slovakia — of the last three Uighur prisoners, five years and two months after a US judge ordered their release.

The Uighurs are Muslims from China’s oppressed Xinjiang province, in the north west of the country, and, prior to the 9/11 attacks and the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, 22 of them, who subsequently ended up at Guantánamo, had been living in a small, rundown settlement in the Tora Bora mountains in eastern Afghanistan — either because they had been unable to reach countries they hoped to reach in search of a new life (primarily Turkey, as the Uighurs are a Turkic ethnic group) or because they nursed far-fetched hopes of training militarily to rise up against their oppressors.

After the US-led invasion, their settlement was bombed by US planes, and the survivors fled, eventually making it across the border to Pakistan, where they were greeted warmly by villagers who then promptly handed therm over — or sold them — to US forces.

Although it should have been clear that the men were seized by mistake, as they had only one enemy, the Chinese Communist government (a point they made repeatedly), they were initially used as pawns in diplomatic games with the Chinese government, whereby they were designated as terrorists in return for a promise by China not to oppose the invasion of Iraq in 2003. 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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