Archive for June, 2015

Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay: It’s Time for Greece to Say No to the Murderous Austerity of Its Creditors

Anti-austerity protestors in Syntagma Square in Athens, Greece in 2011.I couldn’t let this week pass without a mention of the crisis in Greece, where the left-wing Syriza government has called a referendum for Sunday, so that the Greek people can either approve — or turn down — the latest crippling austerity package from the Troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. If they choose yes, the slow death of the economy and of Greek society will continue — a slow death that appears to have no end and will continue, generation after generation — and if they say no, it looks like they will have to leave the Euro, entering uncharted waters and dealing a major blow to the entire Euro project that will have repercussions way beyond Greece’s borders.

I have not written about Greece for many years, but back in 2011, when revolution was in the air via the Arab Spring, and I had recently visited Greece, for a family holiday, just before the collapse of the Greek economy began in earnest, I wrote a number of articles — The Revolution Reaches Europe: Tens of Thousands Protest in Greece and Spain, Crisis in Greece: Experts Call for Return of the Drachma, As Prime Minister Cancels Bailout Referendum, We Are All Greece: Expert Explains How the Greek Crisis is Being Manipulated by Banks and Governments to Enslave Us All (featuring a video in which, as I explained at the time, “Spanish author and professor Pedro Olalla, who has been living in Athens since 1994, discuss[es] the crisis, what it means for Greece, and for the wider European community, in which, in clear language that can be understood by those without specific economic expertise, he explains how Greece’s crisis has largely been manufactured by financial speculators and their willing and unquestioning servants in government”), New Perspectives on the Euro Crisis, and the Need for Greece to Default, Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay: Greeks Rise Up Against Austerity, and, in 2012, Greek Despair: Will the EU and the Bankers Finally Accept That Austerity is Killing Greece? and Austerity Under Attack in Europe: Can Socialism Offer A Cure, and Keep Fascists and Conservatives at Bay?

Some of those previous articles summed up my position, which hasn’t changed since. The Troika’s punishment of Greece for having lived beyond its means (after it was allowed into the Euro project when it shouldn’t have been) is a disaster of almost unbelievable cruelty — a siege conducted using modern methods; in this case, horrendous austerity measures that are so punishing that, as well as crippling Greek society and the economy, with essential services savagely cut, unemployment rampant, and suicides on the rise, are so severe that the economy cannot recover, and, moreover, the debts will never be paid off. Read the rest of this entry »

Shrapnel-Damaged Libyan Amputee Seeks Release from Guantánamo via Periodic Review Board

Guantanamo prisoner Omar Mohammed Khalifh in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.On June 24, Omar Mohammed Khalifh (ISN 695, identified by the US authorities as Omar Khalif Mohammed Abu Baker or Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr), a Libyan prisoner at Guantánamo who is 42 or 43 years old, took part in a Periodic Review Board, a process that involved him talking by video-link, accompanied by his civilian lawyer and two US military personal designated as “personal representatives,” who also spoke on his behalf, to 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, in a secure facility near Washington D.C.

Khalifh is one of 39 prisoners still held who were designated for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009 to review the cases of all the prisoners held at that time and to recommend whether they should be freed or prosecuted, or whether they should continue to be held without charge or trial, because they were regarded as too dangerous to release, but it was acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial.

In a world that respects the rule of law, this third option is a disgrace, as it gives weight to information that is too flimsy to be regarded as evidence and should therefore be discredited — often because it was derived through the use of torture or other abuse. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Charlotte Church’s Inspirational Anti-Austerity Speech on June 20

Singer Charlotte Church preparing to make her speech to the huge anti-austerity protest in London on June 20, 2015.Last Saturday, the new Tory government was confronted by a massive anti-austerity protest, when 250,000 people marched through central London to express their dissatisfaction and disgust with the current political situation — one in which a party that gained the support of just 24.4% of the electorate, and 36.1% of those who voted, nevertheless secured 50.9% of the seats, and is committed to more of the ruinous policies implemented over the last five years — more privatisation of essential public services, including the NHS and our schools, more persecution of the poor, the unemployed and the disabled, and more enriching of the already rich, widening the chasm between the rich and poor with every day that passes.

I wrote about the anti-austerity march here and here, and my photos from the day are on Flickr here, and I hope that another opportunity for people to express their rage in significant numbers will be organised in the not too distant future. We need to meet up regularly, to reassure ourselves that we are many, and they are few, and to find ways in which we can work towards the creation of a better world.

At the end of the march last Saturday, protestors filled Parliament Square, where a succession of speakers addressed the crowd, including Labour leadership contender (and We Stand With Shaker supporter) Jeremy Corbyn, Owen Jones, Mark Steel, Caroline Lucas and Russell Brand. Also speaking was Charlotte Church, the Welsh singer-songwriter, actress and television presenter, who was a child star as a classical singer, and who delivered a powerful speech against austerity and in defense of public services. I’m posting the video of her speech below, as well as a transcript of it from her website: Read the rest of this entry »

Skeletal, 75-Pound Guantánamo Hunger Striker Tariq Ba Odah Seeks Release; Medical Experts Fear For His Life

A restraint chair at Guantanamo, used to force-feed prisoners (Photo by Jason Leopold).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.

For the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, introduced by the United Nations in 1997 to mark the entry into force of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment on June 26, 1987, a vivid reminder of the horrors of Guantánamo emerged the day before, when lawyers for Tariq Ba Odah, a Yemeni prisoner identified by the US authorities as Tarek Baada, sought “a court order granting his habeas petition and compelling the government to facilitate [his] immediate release” because of fears that, otherwise, he will die at the prison. The submission to the court is here.

Tariq, who was picked up in Pakistan by the local authorities at the end of 2001 and turned over to the US military, arrived at Guantánamo shortly after the prison opened in 2002, when he was 23 years old. He is now 36, and he is still held despite being approved for release in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009. He is one of 30 men, all Yemenis, who were placed in a category invented by the task force — “conditional detention,” which was made dependant on perceptions of the security situation in his home country improving, although it was never made clear who would make that decision, or how it would come about.

However, since President Obama began finding new homes in third countries for Yemenis approved for release last November, the only obstacle to his release now is the difficulty of finding a country to accept him, as well as countries prepared to offer new homes to the 29 other Yemenis in “conditional detention,” and 13 other Yemenis approved for release by the task force — or approved for release in the last year and a half by Periodic Review Boards — but still held. Since last November, 18 Yemenis have been released from Guantánamo to third countries. Read the rest of this entry »

Six Months After the CIA Torture Report, We’re Still Waiting for Accountability

An excerpt from the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report into the CIA's post-9/11 torture program, showing some of the redactions.I’m sure many of us remember where we were on December 9, 2014, when, two years after it was completed, the 500-page executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s five-year, 6,700-page, $40m report into the CIA’s post-9/11 torture report was released, which I wrote about here and here.

It was a momentous occasion, for which Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and everyone who worked with her to compile the report and and to publish it (or its executive summary, at least), deserve profound thanks. In dark times, in which the US system of checks and balances has gone awry, this was a bright light in the darkness. It also caused British commentators like myself to reflect on the fact that it was something that would never happen in the UK.

That said, however, the widespread sense of horror that greeted the publication of the executive summary, with its profoundly disturbing details that were unknown before — like the “rectal feeding” of prisoners for example — has not, in the six months since, led to firm action to hold accountable those who authorized and implemented the program, which is, of course, unacceptable. As I wrote at the time in my article for Al-Jazeera: Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo, Stonehenge Book Readings and Music: Two Events with Hamja Ahsan – Radio Show on Sunday June 28, and Art Event in Hackney Wick on July 2

Andy Worthington at the Independence from America protest organised by the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases (CAAB) at RAF Menwith Hill on July 4, 2013.My friends,

If you’re around on Sunday, between 3pm and 5pm GMT, you can listen to me reading from my books and playing some of my favourite music with human rights activist and arts curator Hamja Ahsan (DIY Cultures), who has a show, DIY Sunday Radio, every Sunday afternoon (UK time) on One Harmony Radio, based in Brockley, south east London, where I live.

Hamja became a campaigner because his brother, Talha, a talented poet with Asberger’s Syndrome, was imprisoned without charge or trial in the UK for six years pending extradition to the US, and was then extradited, spending two years in a Supermax prison before a judge sentenced him to time served and sent him home. See the campaign’s Facebook page here.

One Harmony Radio, which mainly plays reggae music, is a community internet radio station, so you can listen to my show from anywhere in the world! The Facebook page is here.

As noted above, I’ll be reading from my books, Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion, The Battle of the Beanfield and The Guantánamo Files. Read the rest of this entry »

Stonehenge and the Summer Solstice, 30 Years After the Battle of the Beanfield

The Stonehenge Free Festival in 1975, a photo from the Flickr page of Basil and Tracy Brooks. Basil played with Zorch, who played the first two festivals in 1974 and 1975.Happy summer solstice, everyone! I thought I might visit megalithic Wiltshire this year, for my first solstice visit in 10 years, but the anti-austerity march in London — and my desire to attend it — rather put paid to that plan. My hoped-for destination was Avebury, the village built in the remains of a colossal stone circle, roughly 20 miles north of Stonehenge, which awakened — or rather reawakened — my interest in all things megalithic from 1996, when a chance visit with my new girlfriend (and now wife) Dot led to such enthusiasm on my part that I devoted much of the next ten years to visiting ancient sacred sites all over England, and in Scotland, Malta and Brittany.

I also wrote two books in this period, after my original plan failed to find a publisher. That project was, “Stonehenge and Avebury: Pilgrimages to the Heart of Ancient England,” and it was based on three long-distance walks I made with Dot and other friends in 1997 and 1998, along the Ridgeway from the Thames to Avebury, and then an eight-day trek through Wiltshire to Stonehenge, from Dorchester in Dorset, which I christened “The Stonehenge Way,” and another walk of my devising from Stonehenge to Avebury.

I hope one day to revive that particular project, but what happened in 2002 was that I was encouraged to focus on one particular aspect of the book — the Stonehenge Free Festival, my first inspiration when it came to ancient sacred sites. As a student, I had visited the festival in 1983 and 1984, and had found my view of the world transformed by this gigantic anarchic jamboree that filled the fields opposite Stonehenge every June. The photo above is from 1975, the second festival, and is from the Flickr site of Basil and Tracy Brooks. Basil played with Zorch, who played at both of the first two festivals, in 1974 and 1975. See the albums here and here. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: The Impressive 250,000-Strong Anti-Austerity March in London

Campaigners on the huge anti-austerity protest in London on June 20, 2015, attended by around 250,000 people (Photo: Andy Worthington).

See my photo set on Flickr here.

Today I was delighted to attend the huge anti-austerity march in central London on June 20 organised by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity. Although the weather was indifferent, the turnout wasn’t, and around 250,000 people marched from the Bank of England to Parliament Square to show the many, many reasons ordinary, hard-working British people have for despising the Tory government, who, in May’s General Election, won over 50% of the seats, with just over 36% of the votes, cast, and the support of less than a quarter of those eligible to vote. See my article here about the need for a new voting system involving  proportional representation.

I arrived by bike in central London after the march had set off, meeting it on Fleet Street and spending some time on the Strand watching the marchers go by, which was where I realised quite how big it was, as the people — cheerful but with a sense of intent and a plethora of excellent hand-made placards — just kept coming. I hope the message that comes through strongly from today’s event is not only a message to the government — that more and more of us are waking up, and we are not happy about what is happening, but also to the organisers of today, and to the unions, who supported it: we need events like this to take place on a regular basis, at least every six months, if not every three, so we can keep showing solidarity with each other, and also to keep demonstrating it to the government.

The Tories’ austerity programme, which has involved massive cuts to the public sector and to the welfare state, including the NHS, and attacks on the unemployed and the disabled, is driven not by need but by a malignant ideology — the desire to privatise almost everything (but not their own salaries, of course) for the benefit of the private sector, often using taxpayers’ money to achieve their ends, and often benefitting them directly, as they are involved in the companies making a profit. Read the rest of this entry »

The Path to Closing Guantánamo

Campaigners with the group Witness Against Torture occupy the national Museum of American History on january 11, 2014, the 12th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo (Photo: Andy Worthington).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 Saturday, six Yemenis were freed from Guantánamo, and resettled in Oman, bringing the prison’s population down to 116 men, the lowest total it has been since the first few months of the prison’s operation back in 2002. I wrote about the release of the men here, and amended the details of our prisoner list here, and, in response to the releases, I thought it would also be useful to follow up by looking at where we stand with President Obama’s long-promised mission to close the prison.

President Obama made his promise to close Guantánamo on his second day in office, pledging to close it within a year. Since failing to keep the promise, he has sporadically stated again his desire to see the prison closed — most notably two years ago, when a prison-wide hunger strike prompted him to promise to resume releasing prisoners, after a period of nearly three years in which releases had almost ground to a halt, because of opposition in Congress and the president ‘s refusal to expend political capital overcoming those obstacles.

In April, as I wrote about here, the Washington Post reported, as I paraphrased it,  that all the men approved for release in Guantánamo — at the time 57 out of the 122 men still held — would be “freed by the end of the year, and, if Congress proves obstructive, the Obama administration might close the facility before the end of Obama’s presidency by unilaterally moving the remaining prisoners to the US mainland.” I added, however, that, realistically, “it might be wisest to view these suggestions as the administration stating its best-case scenario.” Read the rest of this entry »

800 Years of Magna Carta: The Stench of Hypocrisy Regarding Habeas Corpus for Shaker Aamer and Other Guantánamo Prisoners

The giant inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer, which is at the heart of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, at the Not the Global Law Summit opposite Parliament  on February 2015, a lawyer-led protest against the Global Law Summit, a corporate monstrosity that purported to celebrate Magna Carta prior to the Runnymede anniversary on June 15, 2015 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Sometimes the stench of hypocrisy is so overpowering that one wonders how those mired in it can avoid gagging while they deliver their outrageous lies.

That was the case today in Runnymede, west of London, where, 800 years ago today, the barons of England forced King John to sign Magna Carta (the Grand Charter), a document that arose out of their anger at being made to pay for the king’s foreign wars, and which, significantly, limited his power.

Its most famous clause — Clause 39 — introduced habeas corpus to the world — the right not to be imprisoned without a fair trial. It states, “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned … except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land,” and its lasting significance is generally considered with Clause 40 as well, which states, “To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay justice.” 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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