Archive for February, 2014

In Open Letter, Major Obama Supporters Call for Action to Close Guantánamo as Promised

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.

In a sharply-worded open letter to President Obama, 42 prominent figures in the legal community in Illinois — retired lawmakers and judges, as well as working lawyers — have criticized the president for his failure to close the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo, as he promised to do on his second day in office in January 2009.

In an article for Yahoo News, the reporter Liz Goodwin explained how the signatories’ words carried particular weight because they included “[o]ne-time mentors and fundraisers” for the president. Goodwin explain that, in the letter, posted below, “a bipartisan group of Chicago lawyers — many who know Obama personally — argue that the president has all the authority he needs now to transfer prisoners out and has no excuse for inaction.”

Goodwin added, “Signatories include Chicago civil rights attorney Judson Miner, who gave Obama his first job out of law school, and Steven Cohen, a top bundler who raised more than $650,000 for the president during his two campaigns. Judge Abner Mikva, who offered a young Obama a clerkship and later became his mentor, also signed the letter. Some Republicans also joined, including former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson.” Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: On the BBC World Service, Andy Worthington Discusses the US’s Latest Efforts to Hold Prisoners in Bagram Forever

This morning, I was interviewed on the BBC World Service’s “World Update” programme about Bagram prison in Afghanistan, and the latest news from the facility, in the long, drawn-out process of the US handing over control of the prison to the Afghan government. The show is here, it’s available for the next six days, and the section in which I’m interviewed begins at 27 minutes in, and lasts for four minutes.

The prison at Bagram airbase — America’s main prison in Afghanistan — was established in an old Soviet factory following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, and was a place of great brutality, where a handful of prisoners were murdered in US custody.

Used to process prisoners for Guantánamo until the end of 2003, it then grew in size throughout the rest of Bush’s presidency, and into President Obama’s. During this time, a new prison was built, which was named the Parwan Detention facility, but those interested in the prison, its violent history in US hands and its unenviable role as the graveyard of the Geneva Conventions refused to accept the rebranding. Read the rest of this entry »

US Appeals Court Rules that Guantánamo Prisoners Can Challenge Force-Feeding, and Their Conditions of Detention

In the latest news from Guantánamo, the court of appeals in Washington D.C. ruled yesterday that hunger-striking prisoners can challenge their force-feeding in a federal court — and, more generally, ruled that judges have “the power to oversee complaints” by prisoners “about the conditions of their confinement,” as the New York Times described it, further explaining that the judges ruled that “courts may oversee conditions at the prison as part of a habeas corpus lawsuit,” and adding that the ruling “was a defeat for the Obama administration and may open the door to new lawsuits by the remaining 155 Guantánamo inmates.”

In summer, four prisoners, all cleared for release since at least January 2010 — Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian and Nabil Hadjarab, another Algerian, who was later releasedasked federal court judges to stop the government from force-feeding them, but the judges ruled (see here and here) that an existing precedent relating to Guantánamo prevented them from intervening. The prisoners then appealed, and reports at the time of the hearing in the D.C. Circuit Court indicated that the judges appeared to be inclined to look favorably on the prisoners’ complaints.

As was explained in a press release by Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers represent the men involved in the appeal, along with Jon B. Eisenberg in California, the D.C. Circuit Court “held that the detainees should be allowed a ‘meaningful opportunity’ back in District Court to show that the Guantánamo force-feeding was illegal.” They also “invited the detainees to challenge other aspects of the protocol.” Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer Protest in London, Feb. 14, and Andy Worthington Talks About Guantánamo at Amnesty Conference in Leicester, Feb. 15, 2014

Please sign and share the international petition calling for the release of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo.

If you’re anywhere near Leicester on Saturday, February 15, 2014, and can spare a fiver to hear me speak, I’m the keynote speaker at Amnesty International’s East Midlands Regional Conference, where I will be discussing the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which I have been researching and writing about for the last eight years.

Following my recent experiences discussing Guantánamo during my two-week “Close Guantánamo Now” US tour, I will be talking about the monstrous history of the prison, 12 years since it opened, and explaining what has happened over the last few years — primarily involving obstacles to the release of prisoners that were raised by Congress, President Obama’s refusal to bypass Congress, even though he had the power to do so, and the promises to resume releasing prisoners that President Obama finally made last year, after the prisoners had embarked on a huge hunger strike that led to severe criticism of his inaction.

The Amnesty International conference takes place at the Friends Meeting House, 16 Queens Road, Leicester, LE2 1WP. It begins at 9.30am and runs until 5pm, and I’ll be speaking at 2pm. Entry is £5 (or £4 for the unwaged). For further information, please contact Ben Ashby by email or on 07794 441189. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Close Guantánamo Now – Andy Worthington and Dennis Loo at Cal Poly, Pomona, Jan. 17, 2014

Close Guantanamo Now: a banner held up by World Can't Wait supporters outside the Us Supreme Court on January 11, 2013, the 11th anniversary of the opening of the prison (Photo: Andy Worthington).On Friday January 17, 2014, as the last public event of my two-week US tour calling for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, I spoke at a wonderfully well-attended event at California State Polytechnic (Cal Poly) in Pomona, California, attended by several hundred students and arranged by Dennis Loo, a professor of sociology at the university, and a member of the steering committee of the World Can’t Wait, the campaigning group whose national director is Debra Sweet, and who I am enormously grateful to for organizing the tour.

The event, I’m glad to note, was filmed, and the video is posted below, via YouTube. My talk begins around 10 minutes into the video, after Dennis introduced the event by reading out World Can’t Wait’s full-page advertisement that ran in the New York Times last year, and it ended at around 31 minutes.

In my talk, I ran through the history of the prison — explaining the horrible innovation of holding men neither as criminal suspects nor as prisoners of war protected by the Geneva Conventions, how torture was authorized at the prison (through George W. Bush’s Presidential memo of February 7, 2002, which I recently wrote about here), and what types of torture techniques were used on the prisoners. Read the rest of this entry »

Torture Began at Guantánamo with Bush’s Presidential Memo 12 Years Ago

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.

This is a grim time of year for anniversaries relating to Guantánamo. Two days ago, February 6, was the first anniversary of the start of last year’s prison-wide hunger strike, which woke the world up to the ongoing plight of the prisoners — over half of whom were cleared for release by a Presidential task force over four years ago but are still held.

The hunger strike — which, it should be noted, resumed at the end of last year, and currently involves dozens of prisoners — forced President Obama to promise to resume releasing prisoners, after a three-year period in which the release of prisoners had almost ground to a halt, because of opposition in Congress, and President Obama’s unwillingness to overcome that opposition, even though he had the power to do so.

To mark the anniversary, a number of NGOs — the ACLU, Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights First and Human Rights Watch — launched a campaign on Thursday, “Take a Stand for Justice,” encouraging people to call the White House (on 202-456-1111) to declare their support for President Obama’s recent call for Guantánamo to be closed for good (in his State of the Union address, he said, “With the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantánamo Bay”). Please call the White House if you can, and share the page via social media. Read the rest of this entry »

Updated: My Definitive List of the Guantánamo Habeas Corpus Results

Campaigners for the closure of Guantanamo outside the US Supreme Court on January 11, 2012, the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison (Photo: Andy Worthington).

See the updated Guantánamo habeas list here.

Sometimes life takes us down unexpected routes, and yesterday, while looking for links for my last article, a transcript of a talk I gave in Los Angeles during my recent US tour calling for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on the 12th anniversary of its opening, I found myself visiting a page I first created in May 2010, entitled, “Guantánamo Habeas Results: The Definitive List.”

The page is a list of all the prisoners whose habeas corpus petitions were ruled on by judges in the District Court in Washington D.C. following the Supreme Court’s important ruling, in June 2008, in Boumediene v. Bush, granting the prisoners constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights. At the time I created the list, there had been 47 rulings, and in 34 of those cases, after reviewing all the evidence, the judges concluded that the government had failed to demonstrate that they were connected in any meaningful manner with either al-Qaeda or the Taliban, an ordered their release.

This was humiliating for those who sought to defend Guantánamo, especially as the habeas hearings involved a low evidentiary hurdle — requiring the government to establish its case through a preponderance of the evidence rather than beyond any reasonable doubt. It was, moreover, a vindication for those like myself and some other journalists, as well as lawyers for the men, NGOs and others concerned by the existence of Guantánamo, like Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham, who had worked on the tribunals at Guantánamo, who had long maintained that the supposed evidence against the men was flimsy and untrustworthy, in large part because it was gathered using torture or other forms of coercion, or, in some cases at Guantánamo, because certain prisoners were bribed with better living conditions if they told lies about their fellow prisoners. Read the rest of this entry »

Close Guantánamo Now: Transcript of Andy Worthington’s Speech at an Inter-Faith Event in Los Angeles, January 15, 2014

On January 15, as part of my two-week “Close Guantánamo Now” US tour, marking the 12th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo, I was the keynote speaker at a lunch event in a Methodist church in Los Angeles, which was convened by Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP), a Los Angeles area interfaith coalition who describe themselves as being “united behind the message that religious communities must stop blessing war and violence.”

Although the event was not filmed, an audio recording was made by Jenny Jiang, a journalist who runs a news site, “What the Folly?” which includes transcripts she makes of various talks and speeches. Jenny got in touch with me before my visit to ask for permission to record and transcribe my talk, and I was delighted that she wanted to do so.

Jenny subsequently published the transcript of my talk (unscripted as always), in which I ran through the history of Guantánamo, discussed the various legal challenges that have taken place over the years, discussed President Obama’s failure to close the prison as he promised, and the reasons for that failure, and also addressed where we are now, and what we can do in the coming year to keep the pressure on President Obama and on Congress to try and ensure that the prison is finally closed. Read the rest of this entry »

Clive Stafford Smith on Guantánamo: “You Are Cleared to Leave, But You Cannot Go”

On Friday, a powerful op-ed appeared on CNN’s website, entitled, “Mr. President, what should I tell cleared prisoners in Guantánamo?” It was written by someone who has been meeting prisoners at Guantánamo, as a civilian lawyer, for nearly ten years, and has been meeting prisoners who have been told that the US no longer wants to hold them — that they have been cleared for release — for up to seven years.

The author of the op-ed is Clive Stafford Smith, the founder and director of Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers represent 14 of the 155 men still held at Guantánamo, including one man, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who was told in 2007 that the US no longer wanted to hold him. Soon after he was told this, another British resident was freed, with three more following in December 2007. The last to be freed was Binyam Mohamed, in February 2009, but for Shaker his long and pointless imprisonment seems to be unending.

This is in spite of the fact that President Obama established a high-level, inter-agency task force to review the cases of all the men held shortly after he took office in January 2009, and, a year later, the task force issued a report containing their recommendations: who to release, who to prosecute, and — most dubiously — who to continue holding without charge or trial on the basis that they were too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »

Poland and Lithuania Haunted by Their Involvement in Hosting CIA Torture Prisons

In the long search for accountability for the torturers of the Bush administration, which has largely been shut down by President Obama, lawyers and human rights activists have either had to try shaming the US through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, or have had to focus on other countries, particularly those that hosted secret CIA torture prisons, or had explicit involvement in extraordinary rendition.

Successes have been rare, but hugely important — the conviction of CIA officials and operatives in Italy, for the blatant daylight kidnap of Abu Omar, a cleric, on a street in Milan in February 2003, and the court victory in Macedonia of Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen kidnapped in Macedonia, where he had gone on a holiday, and sent to a CIA “black site” in 2003 until the US realized that his was a case of mistaken identity. In the UK, the whiff of complicity in torture at the highest levels of the Blair government led to pay-offs for the British nationals and residents sent to Guantánamo.

Court cases were also launched in Spain, although they were suppressed, in part because of US involvement (under President Obama), and currently there are efforts to hold the US accountable before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights for its use of Djibouti in a number of cases involving “extraordinary rendition” and “black sites.” 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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