Archive for July, 2014

Guantánamo Review Boards Clear Kuwaiti Prisoner Fawzi Al-Odah for Release, But Defend Ongoing Imprisonment of Fayiz Al-Kandari

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 July 14, the board members of the Periodic Review Boards at Guantánamo — consisting of representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — approved the release of Fawzi al-Odah, one of the last two Kuwaiti prisoners in Guantánamo, but recommended that the other Kuwaiti, Fayiz al-Kandari, should continue to be held.

This is good news for Fawzi al-Odah, but the decision about Fayiz al-Kandari casts a dark cloud over the whole process. I have been covering the stories of both men for many years, and it remains as clear to me now as it always has been that neither man poses a threat to the US. Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we profiled both men back in February 2012, shortly after Tom Wilner and I, the co-founders of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, had been in Kuwait trying to secure their release (see here, here and here).

The Periodic Review Boards were established last year, to review the cases of 46 Guantánamo prisoners specifically detained on the basis that they are allegedly too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence exists to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: The Wonderful WOMAD Festival, Charlton Park, Wiltshire, July 2014

See my photos on Flickr here!

Every year since 2002, I have attended the WOMAD world music festival (it stands for ‘World of Music, Arts and Dance’) with my family and with friends. My wife runs children’s workshops at the festival, and for five days, at the end of July every year, we escape from the city and join the gathering of the tribes in a trouble-free version of the festival idyll that was first dreamt up by the counter-cultural pioneers of the 1960s and 1970s, and has since grown to appeal to — well, almost everyone, if Glastonbury’s success is anything to go by.

WOMAD had a capacity crowd this year for the first time since it moved to its current residence, Charlton Park in Wiltshire, from Reading in 2007. That meant that 40,000 people turned up to be hammered by the relentless sun and to be thrilled, entertained and moved by musicians who are not generally on the mainstream musical radar in the UK — with the exception of Sinead O’Connor, who stepped in at the last minute to replace the late Bobby Womack, and who was extraordinarily powerful, her unique mixture of vulnerability and anger bringing many in the crowd to tears, and not just during “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Sinead played many songs from her new album, “I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss,” which promises to be excellent.

From further afield, I enjoyed Clinton Fearon from Jamaica, formerly of the roots reggae legends the Gladiators, the legendary Manu Dibango and the magisterial Youssou N’Dour, but WOMAD is also about making new discoveries, in my case Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni ba, Malians who lit up the first night, folk legends Martin Simpson and Dom Flemons, and — my favourites this year — Debademba, a very funky, rocking and soulful bunch of West African groovesters featuring the Malian griot singer Mohamed Diaby and guitarist Abdoulaye Traoré, who was born in Burkina Faso. Read the rest of this entry »

Please Read “Britain’s Latest Counter-Terrorism Disasters,” My New Article for Al-Jazeera About Diego Garcia, Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan

Dear friends and supporters,

I’ve been away since last Wednesday, but I hope that you have time to read my latest article for Al-Jazeera, “Britain’s Latest Counter-Terrorism Disasters,” if you didn’t see it when it was published on the day of my departure (to the WOMAD festival in Wiltshire) and to like it, share it and tweet it if you find it of interest. It concerns two recent problems with the UK’s conduct in the “war on terror” — specifically, the latest embarrassment about British knowledge of what the US was doing with terror suspects on the UK’s Indian Ocean territory of Diego Garcia (a story that has been bubbling away for nearly 12 years), and the colossal waste of time and effort involved in the long UK detention without charge or trial of two British citizens, Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan (held for eight and six years), their extradition to the US in October 2012, their plea deals last December and their sentencing last week, which has led to an order for Talha Ahsan’s immediate release, and a sentence for Babar Ahmad that will probably see him freed in the UK in just over a year.

The US, of course, is severely to blame for both of these policy disasters — through its policy of extraordinary rendition and CIA “black sites” under the Bush administration, which the UK readily supported, and through the UK-US Extradition Act of 2003, which was used to extradite Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad, even though it is clearly not a well-functioning system, as the UK government conceded that the two men could not have been put on trial in the UK.

Back in 2008 and 2009, in particular, I wrote extensively about Britain’s revolting counter-terrorism policies in the wake of 9/11: about the high-level attempts to hide British complicity in the torture of Binyam Mohamed, a British resident held in Guantánamo, who had been tortured in Morocco; about the foreign nationals held without charge or trial in the UK, on the basis of secret evidence presented in closed sessions in a special national security court, and the others — including British nationals — held on control orders, a form of house arrest that also involved secret evidence and no trials; and, on occasion, about Diego Garcia (see here, and see my Guardian article here). Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: Free Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo – Parliamentary Vigil, July 16, 2014

See my photos of the latest protest for Shaker Aamer on Flickr here.

On July 16, 2014, I joined campaigners with the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign — calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison — at Parliament Square, opposite the Houses of Parliament, for their last Parliamentary vigil before the summer recess. The campaigners have been holding vigils every Wednesday lunchtime throughout the spring and summer, and will resume weekly vigils in September, unless Shaker is released in the meantime. See my photos on Flickr here.

Shaker’s British wife and his four British children live in Battersea, where they lived with Shaker before he was seized after the 9/11 attacks in Afghanistan. He had travelled to Afghanistan with his family to provide humanitarian aid, but while his wife and children safely returned to the UK, he was caught by bounty hunters, and was eventually sold to US forces.

Shaker was first cleared for release from Guantánamo under the Bush administration, in 2007, and he was cleared for release again in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama appointed to review the cases of all the prisoners after he took office in 2009. His release has also been requested by successive UK governments since 2007. And yet, although all the other British citizens and residents held in Guantánamo have been freed, he is still imprisoned, perhaps because he is a charismatic and eloquent man, who has always stood up for the prisoners’ rights, and both the US and the UK governments fear what he will say on his release. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Hunger Striker Abu Wa’el Dhiab’s Wife Calls for Videos of his Force-Feeding to be Made Public

Regular readers will know that one of the most prominent Guantánamo prisoners at present is Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian national, separated from his wife and his four children for over 12 years, who recently persuaded a US judge to order the government stop force-feeding him as a response to the hunger strike that he embarked on last year. Soon after, Judge Gladys Kessler reluctantly rescinded her order, as she feared that Mr. Dhiab might die if he was not force-fed, but she also ordered the government to release videotapes of Mr. Dhiab’s force-feeding — and of him being forcibly extracted from his cell — to his lawyers.

This was the first time a judge had ordered evidence of force-feeding and cell extractions to be released to any of the prisoners’ lawyers, and when lawyers watched the videos, in the secure facility in Virginia where they must travel to view all classified material, one of his legal team, Cori Crider of Reprieve, said, “While I’m not allowed to discuss the contents of these videos, I can say that I had trouble sleeping after viewing them.” Although the men’s lawyers are the only people allowed to see the videos, 16 mainstream media organizations recently submitted a motion calling for them to be made public.

Abu Wa’el Dhiab, who is confined to a wheelchair as a result of his treatment in US custody, is one of 75 prisoners still held who were cleared for release in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009. This disgraceful situation has arisen because of Congressional obstruction, a refusal by President Obama to spend political capital overcoming that obstruction, even though he has the means to do so, and the US establishment’s collective unwillingness to release Yemeni prisoners, who make up the majority of the cleared prisoners, because of unreasonable fears about the security situation in that country. Read the rest of this entry »

More Farcical Proceedings at the Military Commissions in 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.

Last week I published “The 9/11 Trial at Guantánamo: The Dark Farce Continues,” the first of two articles providing updates about the military commissions at Guantánamo.

The commissions were established under President George W. Bush in November 2001, were ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in June 2006, revived by Congress in the fall of 2006, suspended by President Obama in January 2009, and revived again by Congress in the fall of 2009, but they have always struggled to establish any credibility, and should not have been revived by the Obama administration.

Last week’s article, as the title indicates, covered developments — or the lack of them — in pre-trial hearings for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks, who were held and tortured in CIA “black sites” for years before their arrival in Guantánamo in September 2006. Read the rest of this entry »

For the First Time, A Nurse at Guantánamo Refuses to Take Part in Force-Feedings, Calls Them a “Criminal Act”

Reprieve, the legal action charity whose lawyers represent a number of prisoners still held at Guantánamo Bay revealed yesterday that a nurse with the US military at the prison “recently refused to force-feed” prisoners “after witnessing the suffering” it caused them.

Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner long cleared for release from Guantánamo, who is in a wheelchair as a result of his physical deterioration after 12 years in US custody without charge or trial, told his lawyer Cori Crider during a phone call last week (on July 10) that the male nurse “recently told him he would no longer participate in force-feedings.”

Dhiab reported that the nurse said, “I have come to the decision that I refuse to participate in this criminal act.”

He added that, “after the man made his decision known, he never saw him again,” and Reprieve noted that he had “apparently been assigned elsewhere.” Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington: An Archive of Guantánamo Articles and Other Writing – Part 15, July to December 2013

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Over eight years ago, in March 2006, I began researching and writing about the Bush administration’s “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo and the 779 men (and boys) held there since the prison opened in January 2002. Initially, I spent 14 months researching and writing my book The Guantánamo Files, based, largely, on 8,000 pages of documents publicly released by the Pentagon in the spring of 2006, and, since May 2007, I have continued to write about the men held there, on an almost daily basis, as an independent investigative journalist — for 20 months under President Bush, and, shockingly, for what is now five and a half years under President Obama.

My mission, as it has been since my research first revealed the scale of the injustice at Guantánamo, continues to revolve around four main aims — to humanize the prisoners by telling their stories; to expose the many lies told about them to supposedly justify their detention; to push for the prison’s closure and the absolute repudiation of indefinite detention without charge or trial as US policy; and to call for those who initiated, implemented and supported indefinite detention and torture to be held accountable for their actions.

As I highlight every three months through my quarterly fundraising appeals, I have undertaken the lion’s share of this work as a reader-supported journalist and activist, so if you can support my work please click on the “Donate” button above to donate via PayPal. Read the rest of this entry »

Canadian Appeals Court Rules That Former Guantánamo Prisoner Omar Khadr Should Be Serving a Youth Sentence

Good news about Guantánamo is rare —  whether regarding those still held, or those released — so it was reassuring to hear this week that the Court of Appeal in Alberta, Canada, delivered a major blow to the Canadian government’s efforts to hold former prisoner Omar Khadr in federal prison rather than in a provincial jail. Khadr is serving an eight-year sentence handed down in a plea deal at his trial by military commission in Guantánamo in October 2010, and has been held in federal prisons since his return to Canada, where he was born in 1986.

The 27-year old was just 15 years old when he was seized in Afghanistan after a firefight with US forces in a compound. He had been taken there, and deposited with some adults, by his father, but on his capture, when he was severely wounded, he was abused in US custody and eventually put forward for a war crimes trial, even though, as a juvenile at the time of the alleged crime, he should have been rehabilitated rather than punished according to an international treaty on the rights of the child signed by the US (and by Canada), even though there is no evidence that the allegation that he threw a grenade that killed a US soldier is true, and even though there is no precedent for claiming that a combat death in an occupied country is a war crime.

Khadr has since explained that he only agreed to the plea deal because he could see no other way of ever getting out of Guantánamo, and last November, via his US civilian lawyer, Sam Morison, he appealed in the US for his conviction to be overturned. In recent years, US appeals court judges have delivered two devastating rulings, overturning two of the only convictions secured in the military commissions, in the cases of Salim Hamdan and Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, on the basis that the war crimes for which the men were convicted were not war crimes at the time the legislation authorizing the commissions was passed — and had, in fact, been invented by Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

The 9/11 Trial at Guantánamo: The Dark Farce Continues

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 two articles — this one and another to follow soon — I’ll be providing updates about the military commissions at Guantánamo, the system of trials that the Bush administration dragged from the US history books in November 2001 with the intention of trying, convicting and executing alleged terrorists without the safeguards provided in federal court trials, and without the normal prohibitions against the use of information derived through torture.

Notoriously, the first version of the commissions revived by the Bush administration collapsed in June 2006, when, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court ruled that the commission system lacked “the power to proceed because its structures and procedures violate both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the four Geneva Conventions signed in 1949.”

Nevertheless, Congress subsequently revived the commissions, in the fall of 2006, and, although President Obama briefly suspended them when he took office in 2009, they were revived by Congress for a second time in the fall of 2009. 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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