Archive for May, 2014

Please Read “Waiting for Progress on Guantánamo,” My Latest Article for Al-Jazeera

The logo of Al-Jazeera.Dear friends and supporters,

I hope you have time to read my latest article for Al-Jazeera, “Waiting for Progress on Guantánamo,” and to like, share and tweet it if you find it useful. Written to mark the first anniversary of President Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo (on May 23, when a global day of action was held to call for renewed action from the president), it provides a round-up of progress — or the lack of it — in the last year.

As I note, although President Obama appointed envoys in the Pentagon and the State Department to work on the release of prisoners and the closure of the prison, and 12 men have been freed since last August, 78 of the prisoners, out of 154 in total who are still held, have been approved for release — 75 in January 2010 by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, and three others in recent months by Periodic Review Boards, established to review the cases of the majority of the men have not been cleared for release, including one man, Ghaleb al-Bihani, whose release was approved just yesterday. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo with Linda Olson-Osterlund on KBOO FM in Portland

Last Thursday, on the eve of a global day of action on Guantánamo, I spoke to Linda Olson-Osterlund on KBOO FM in Portland, Oregon. Linda and I have spoken many times over the years, and it’s always a pleasure to speak to her. The half-hour show is available here, as an MP3, and the page on the KBOO FM site is here.

The day of action (see my photos of the London protest here, and my report here) was called to mark the first anniversary of President Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners, after a 32-month period in which just five men were released from the prison. The release of prisoners almost ground to a halt because Congress raised significant obstacles, which President Obama chose not to overcome, even though a waiver in the legislation allowed him to do so.

Since the promise, President Obama has appointed two envoys to work towards the closure of Guantánamo, and 12 men have been freed from the prison, but much more needs to be done. On the anniversary, half of the men still held — 77 of the 154 men still imprisoned — are still detained even though all of them have been cleared for release. 75 of them were told in January 2010 by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that the US no longer wanted to hold them, and two others had their release approved in the last few months by Periodic Review Boards. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: The “Close Guantánamo” Protest in London, May 23, 2014

Please click here to see my photos of the protest on Flickr.

On Friday (May 23), activists around the world held a global day of actionin 39 towns and cities in the US, and six other cities worldwide — calling for the release of prisoners from Guantánamo, and the closure of the prison. The day was set up by my friends in the US-based campaigning group Witness Against Torture, and I was at the London protest, in Trafalgar Square. This was a silent protest organised by the London Guantánamo Campaign, and I’m pleased to make my photos available. The protest, in front of the National Gallery, was seen by many people, and enthusiastic volunteers handed out leaflets explaining why it was so important.

The London protest was also noteworthy for the presence of a giant inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer, the last British prisoner in Guantánamo, which was an idea of mine, taken up by a supporter who financed the making of it. Shaker continues to be held, despite being cleared for release in 2007, under President Bush, and also under President Obama, and there will be further events calling for his release in the near future, which I’ll be publicising in due course. In the meantime, please sign and share the international petition calling for his release, and read some of my most recent articles about him; specifically, From Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer Says, “Tell the World the Truth,” as CBS Distorts the Reality of “Life at Gitmo”, Gravely Ill, Shaker Aamer Asks US Judge to Order His Release from Guantánamo and Shaker Aamer’s Statements Regarding His Torture and Abuse in Afghanistan and at Guantánamo.

The date for the global day of action was chosen because it was exactly a year since President Obama promised, in a major speech on national security issues, to resume releasing prisoners, after nearly three years in which the release of prisoners had almost ground to a halt. Read the rest of this entry »

Judge Reluctantly Allows US to Resume Force-Feeding Guantánamo Hunger Striker

As I explained last week, the Guantánamo prisoners secured a massive court victory on May 16, when a federal court judge ordered the government to halt the force-feeding of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner. He is one of 77 men still held (out of 154 in total) who have been cleared for release from the prison, and he is on a hunger strike and being force-fed, in large part because of his despair at ever being released, despite being told in January 2010 that the US government no longer wished to hold him.

The judge in question, Judge Gladys Kessler, also ordered the government to preserve video evidence of his force-feeding, to stop him being subjected to “forcible cell extractions” — in which guards in riot gear storm prisoner’s cells and move them to be force-fed if they refuse to go — and to preserve  all evidence of his “forcible cell extractions.”

This was the first time a judge had intervened to hold the government to account for its treatment of prisoners (following a helpful appeals court ruling in February), and on Wednesday Judge Kessler held a meeting with Mr. Dhiab’s lawyers and lawyers from the Justice Department at which she ordered the government to hand over videotapes and Mr. Dhiab’s medical records to his lawyers. Read the rest of this entry »

For First Time, US Judge Orders Government to Release Videotapes of Force-Feeding to Guantánamo Prisoner’s Lawyers

Yesterday, for the first time in Guantánamo’s long and ignoble history, a federal court judge ordered the US government to hand over videotapes recording a prisoner being forcibly dragged from his cell by a riot team, and then being force-fed.

The prisoner in question, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, is a Syrian, cleared for release from the prison in 2009 by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, along with 74 other men who are still held. In despair at ever being released, because of Congressional obstructions and President Obama’s unwillingness to bypass Congress, even though a waiver in the legislation allowed him to do so, Mr. Dhiab was one of the many prisoners who embarked on a prison-wide hunger strike last year, and was soon subjected to force-feeding, a horribly painful process condemned by medical professionals.

Last Friday, Abu Wa’el Dhiab secured a momentous victory when District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the government to stop force-feeding him and to stop him being subjected to “forcible cell extractions,” and also ordered the government to preserve all videotapes recording his “forcible cell extractions” and his force-feeding. The motion on behalf of Abu Wa’el Dhiab only came about when one of his lawyers, Jon B. Eisenberg, found out through persistent questioning of a Justice Department official that the videotapes existed, and, with his fellow lawyers at the legal action charity Reprieve, submitted an emergency motion. Read the rest of this entry »

Two More Guantánamo Hunger Strikers Ask Judges to Order Government to Preserve Video Evidence of Force-Feeding

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.

On Friday, as I reported here, there was wonderful news from the District Court in Washington D.C., as Judge Gladys Kessler responded to an emergency motion submitted by a Syrian prisoner in Guantánamo, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, who is on a hunger strike and is being force-fed, and ordered the government to stop force-feeding him, and to preserve all videotapes showing his force-feeding.

The existence of the videos only came to light last week, in correspondence between the Justice Department and Jon B. Eisenberg, one of Abu Wa’el Dhiab’s lawyers. In court documents, the lawyers described how the admission that videotapes exist came about “only under persistent questioning by Petitioners’ counsel during a protracted email exchange.”

As well as recording the prisoners’ force-feeding, the videos also record the “forcible cell extractions” (FCEs) undertaken by a team of guards in riot gear who violently move prisoners who refuse to leave their cells. Judge Kessler also ordered the government to preserve all videos of the “forcible cell extractions,”and also ordered the government to stop the FCEs. Read the rest of this entry »

Uruguay’s President Mujica Confirms Offer of New Home for Six Guantánamo Prisoners

Back in March, President José Mujica of Uruguay announced that he had been approached by the Obama administration regarding the resettlement of Guantánamo prisoners, cleared for release from the prison in 2009 by President Obama’s high-level Guantánamo Review Task Force, who cannot be safely repatriated, and was willing to offer new homes to five men. The BBC reported that the 78-year old president told local media, “The US president wants to solve this problem so he’s asking several countries to host them and I told him I will. They are welcome to come here.” He also told Montevideo’s El Espectador Radio that the men in question were four Syrians and a Palestinian.

Subsequently, the Global Post published an article identifying the men, after working out, from a publicly available list of the prisoners cleared for release (see my article here, for example) that there is only one Palestinian still held at Guantánamo, who has long been cleared for release, and four Syrians who have also been cleared for release.

The Palestinian is Mohammed Taha Mattan (aka Mohammed Tahamuttan, ISN 684), who, like the handful of other Palestinians held at Guantánamo and subsequently released, is essentially stateless, as he can only return with the blessing of the Israeli government, which has no intention of allowing any former Guantánamo prisoner to return home. I most recently profiled his case here, mentioning how he was not only cleared for release by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2009 (like 74 other men still held, including the four Syrians), but had also been cleared for release under President Bush in October 2007. I also mentioned how, sadly, he was one of three prisoners that the German government was planning to accept in 2010, but was the only one left behind in Guantánamo when, for political reasons, a decision was taken to accept just two men instead. Read the rest of this entry »

Breakthrough on Guantánamo: Judge Orders US Government to Stop Force-Feeding Syrian Prisoner and to Preserve Video Evidence

In a hugely important ruling in the US District Court in Washington D.C., relating to the treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Judge Gladys Kessler has ordered the government to suspend the force-feeding of a hunger-striking prisoner, and to preserve video evidence of his force-feeding.

The prisoner, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a father of four, is a Syrian national, who is confined to a wheelchair as a result of his deteriorating health during his 12 years in US custody. Significantly, he was cleared for release by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2009, but is still held, along with 74 other men cleared for release by the task force. The majority of these men are Yemenis, who have not been freed because of US concerns about the security situation in Yemen, but in Dhiab’s case, he is still held because of the civil war in his home country, and the need for a third country to be found to take him in.

The fact that he is on a hunger strike, in despair at his abandonment in Guantánamo, and is being force-fed in response ought to be a source of profound shame for the administration, although it is worth noting that he is not the only prisoner cleared for release who was involved in the prison-wide hunger strike last year, and is still on a hunger strike now. Read the rest of this entry »

Rare Good News for the NHS: Government Accepts Lords Amendment Removing Hospital Closure Clause from Care Bill

Last week there was some rare good news about the NHS, which I’m posting belatedly because I was too busy last week, and also because I want to make sure that my approval is on record. I’m also posting it because, let’s face it, those of us who care about social justice have few victories to cheer about.

The victory in question was the government’s acceptance of an amendment to Clause 119 of the Care BIll — generally known as the “hospital closure clause” — which is designed to prevent neighbouring hospitals to those facing grave financial difficulties from having their services cut without local consultation.

The circumstances in which this would have occurred involved hospitals close to those subjected to the appointment of a special administrator because of severe financial problems — under the Unsustainable Providers Regime that was first launched in south east London in October 2012. In that case, the Trust Special Administrator, Matthew Kershaw, proposed savagely cutting services at Lewisham Hospital to help pay off the debts of a neighbouring, but otherwise unrelated trust, the South London Healthcare Trust, which had hospitals in the boroughs of Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley. Read the rest of this entry »

Long-Term Guantánamo Hunger Striker Emad Hassan Describes the Torture of Force-Feeding

Yesterday, two disturbing letters from Guantánamo were released by Reprieve US, the US branch of the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers represent 15 of the 154 men still held at the prison, and I’m posting them below, because they shed light on what Reprieve described in a press release as the “escalating, brutal punishment of hunger strikers,” who continue to be force-fed, even though the World Medical Association denounced force-feeding in the Declaration of Malta, in 2006, calling it “unjustifiable,” “never ethically acceptable,” and “a form of inhuman and degrading treatment,” if inflicted on a patient — or a prisoner — who is capable of making a rational decision about his refusal to eat.

The letters were written by Emad Hassan, a Yemeni prisoner who has been on a hunger strike — and force-fed — since 2007, even though he was cleared for release by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in January 2010. 77 of the men still held have been cleared for release — 75 by the task force, and two in recent months by a Periodic Review Board — and 57 of these men are Yemenis, but they are still held because of US fears about the security situation in Yemen — fears which may be legitimate, but which are an unacceptable basis for continuing to hold men that high-level review boards said should no longer be held.

In February, I made available a harrowing letter written by Emad, and in March he launched a historic legal challenge, becoming “the first Guantánamo Bay prisoner to have his claims of abuse at the military base considered by a US court of law,” as Reprieve described it. 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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