Archive for June, 2015

Who Are the Six Yemenis Freed from Guantánamo and Resettled in Oman?

Idris Ahmad Abdu Qader Idris, in a photo included in the classified US military documents (the Detainee Assessment Briefs) released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.So it’s good news from Guantánamo, as six Yemenis — long cleared for release — have been freed and resettled in the Gulf state of Oman. These are the first men to be released since January, and the first under the watch of the new defense secretary Ashton Carter, who, as defense secretary, has to sign off on any proposed releases, certifying to Congress that it is safe to do so.

They follow four of their compatriots who were resettled in Oman in the last batch of transfers, five months ago, on January 14. With these releases, 116 men remain at Guantánamo, and 51 of those men have been approved for release — 44 since 2009, when the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009 issued its recommendations about who to release, who to prosecute and who to continue holding without charge or trial. The other seven have had their release approved, in the last year and a half, by Periodic Review Boards, established to review the cases of all the prisoners not approved for release by the task force, with the exception of the small number of men facing trials.

Of these 51, all but eight are Yemenis, the victims of a refusal, across the entire US establishment, to contemplate repatriating them because of the security situation in their home country. The other eight include Tariq al-Sawah, a morbidly obese Egyptian who was cleared for release by a PRB in February. and three men cleared by the task force and mentioned in a Washington Post article predicting a rash of releases in April, which I wrote about here. Read the rest of this entry »

Remembering the Season of Death at Guantánamo

Yasser-al-Zahrani, photographed at Guantanamo before his suspicious death on June 9, 2006.On June 9, Joseph Hickman, a former guard at Guantánamo, posted the following tweet: “9 years ago today I was at Guantánamo Bay. Three detainees were murdered while I was on duty. All should remember those three men today.”

It was a poignant message, and a reminder of how, at Guantánamo, the years may pass but the injustices — horrible injustices involving unexplained deaths, torture and indefinite detention without charge or trial — remain or are inadequately addressed.

On June 9, 2006, as Joe Hickman pointed out, three prisoners died at Guantánamo — 37-year old Salah Ahmed al-Salami (aka Ali al-Salami), a Yemeni, 30-year old Mani Shaman al-Utaybi, a Saudi, and 22-year old Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, another Saudi, who was just 17 years old when he was seized in Afghanistan at the end of 2001. The Bush administration claimed that they died in a suicide pact, by hanging themselves, but that always seemed unlikely. How were men who were scrutinized incessantly supposed to get the materials to hang themselves and then do so without anyone noticing? And could it really not be relevant that all three men had been long-term hunger strikers, and a thorn in the side of the authorities at Guantánamo?

I wrote regularly about the men who died in June 2006 — on the second anniversary of their death, when no one in the mainstream media noticed, and in August 2008, after an official and unsatisfactory statement based on the NCIS investigation of the men’s death was released  — and then, in January 2010, came a dark and powerful revelation: “The Guantánamo ‘Suicides,'” an article in Harper’s Magazine by the law professor and journalist Scott Horton, based on interviews with former guards, including, in particular, Staff Sgt. Joe Hickman, who had been in charge of the guard towers on the night the men died, and who swore that the official story could not have been true. My immediate response to Horton’s article is here. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: London Protests Against the Tories and Austerity

My son Tyler Worthington at an anti-austerity protest in May 2015 (Photo: Andy Worthington).See my photo set on Flickr here!

Since the Tories got back into power, without even needing the Lib Dems for a coalition, thanks to the unfairness of the “first past the post” voting system, the largely corrupt and biased British media and the propensity of voters outside Scotland to vote Tory (and UKIP) in slightly larger numbers than Labour and the Green Party, it is obvious that any of us who care about society, community, the welfare state, the NHS, social housing, the working class, the poor, the unemployed, the disabled, Muslims and immigrants have a huge fight on our hands for the next five years — unless, as is to be hoped, the Tories manage to tear themselves apart.

I confess that I was reassured that, the moment it became obvious that, with the support of just 24.4% of the electorate and 36.9% of those who voted, the Tories had managed to secure 50.8% of the seats in the General Election on May 7, spontaneous protests took place in London and Cardiff.

I think we need to be on the streets as much as possible, to show our discontent, and to remind ourselves that we are not alone, and I hope that the national anti-austerity protest in London on June 20, organised by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, will be as big as possible. The Facebook page is here. Read the rest of this entry »

Quarterly Fundraiser Day 3: Still Hoping to Raise $3000 (£1800) to Support My Guantánamo Work

Andy Worthington and the We Stand With Shaker poster at the protest against Guantanamo outside the Whirte House on January 11, 2015, the 13th anniversary of the opening of the prison (Photo: Medea Benjamin for Andy Worthington).Please support my work!

Dear friends and supporters,

Many of you, I’m sure, are, like me, self-employed — and will therefore understand that life regularly involves not knowing where your next pay check is coming from. For the last six years, I have relied on you to support me with donations — support that enables me to continue my work as an independent journalist, commentator and activist, specializing in Guantánamo and related issues and largely working online.

This is a modern story — only made possible through the internet, through blogging technology, and through your generosity, funding people you appreciate as an alternative to the old models of the mainstream media and payment derived from advertising and sales.

Since I launched my latest fundraiser on Monday, things have been moving slowly, I have to say. Earlier today, I had my fourth donation, but back in March, for example, over 30 people donated. Today’s supporter apologized for only being able to give $20 (£12), but no apology was required. Every donation — however large or small — is very generous, and, in addition, if everyone who reads my work and supports my campaigning gave me $20 — that’s just $1.50 or £1 a week for the next three months — I could wrap up this fundraiser now! Read the rest of this entry »

New York Times Publishes British MPs’ Hard-Hitting Op-Ed Calling for Shaker Aamer’s Release from Guantánamo

Sen. Dianne Feinstein meets the delegation of British MPs who traveled to Washington, D.C. last month to call for Shaker Aamer's release from Guantanamo. From L to R: Jeremy Corbyn, David Davis, Dianne Feinstein, Andrew Mitchell and Andy Slaughter.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.

Regular readers of “Close Guantánamo” will be aware of the case of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident still held in the prison at Guantánamo Bay. Shaker, a Saudi national who was given indefinite leave to remain in the UK, has a British wife and four British children, and is still held despite being approved for release under President Bush in 2007 and under President Obama in 2010.

I wrote about Shaker’s case soon after the “Close Guantánamo” campaign and website was established, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo in January 2012. To mark the 10th anniversary of Shaker’s arrival at  Guantánamo, on February 14, 2012, I wrote an article entitled, 10 Years in Guantánamo: British Resident Shaker Aamer, Cleared for Release But Still Held.

One of his lawyers, Ramzi Kassem, then made available notes of his meetings with Shaker, which we published as two articles in April 2012, and again in October 2012, at Shaker’s request. In October 2013, we published an exclusive article about Shaker’s request for an independent medical evaluation, and also published Ramzi Kassem’s supporting statement, and in April 2014, after that medical evaluation had been allowed, we followed up with an article about Shaker’s ultimately unsuccessful request for a judge to order his release because of the findings by the expert, Dr. Emily Keram, that Shaker was suffering from a host of physical and psychological problems. Read the rest of this entry »

My Quarterly Fundraising Campaign: Seeking $3500 to Support My Guantánamo Work

Andy Worthington standing with the giant inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer that is at the heart of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, which Andy launched with Joanne MacInnes in November 2014.Please support my work!

Dear friends and supporters,

Every three months I ask you, if you can, to support my work on Guantánamo by making a donation to support my work. I have been researching and writing about Guantánamo for over nine years, and I have been writing articles on an almost daily basis, and campaigning to get the prison closed, for just over eight years, beginning with a blog post I wrote on May 31, 2007, after a Saudi prisoner died, reportedly by committing suicide. In all this time, most of my work has been unpaid — and is only possible because of the support I receive from you.

If you support my work as a genuinely independent voice, unafraid to combine hard-hitting journalism with activism, and if you can help out at all, please click on the “Donate” button above to donate via PayPal (and I should add that you don’t need to be a PayPal member to use PayPal).

All contributions to support my work are welcome, whether it’s $25, $100 or $500 — or, of course, the equivalent in pounds sterling or any other currency. You can also make a recurring payment on a monthly basis by ticking the box marked, “Make This Recurring (Monthly),” and if you are able to do so, it would be very much appreciated. Read the rest of this entry »

Omar Khadr Speaks: Major Profile of Former Guantánamo Prisoner in the Toronto Star

Omar Khadr with Dennis Edney on May 9, 2015 (Photo: Michelle Shephard/Toronto Star).For nine years, I’ve been following the story of Omar Khadr, the former child prisoner at Guantánamo, who was released on bail in Canada a month ago. I first wrote about Omar in my book The Guantánamo Files, which I wrote in 2006-07, and since then I’ve written 94 articles about him, watching as he was first put forward for a trial by military commission in June 2007, shortly after I started writing articles about Guantánamo on an almost daily basis, and writing a major profile of him in November 2007.

In 2008, I followed his pre-trial hearings in the military commissions (see here and here, for example), and watched in horror as videos of his profoundly insensitive interrogations by Canadian agents were released, and in October 2008 I wrote a detailed article about him based on the Bush administration’s refusal to recognize the rights of juvenile prisoners.

I then wrote about the Obama administration’s lamentable decision to charge Omar — again — in the revived military commissions, and watched as the pre-trial hearings unfolded, leading to one of the bleakest moments in the Obama presidency — the plea deal Omar agreed to, in order to leave Guantánamo, in which, to his eternal shame, President Obama allowed a former child to be prosecuted, in a war crimes trial, not for war crimes, but for having engaged in armed conflict with US soldiers during a war — something that has never been a war crime and never will be. Read the rest of this entry »

Der Spiegel Publishes Detailed Profile of the Former Guantánamo Prisoners in Uruguay, Struggling to Adapt to a New Life

Three of the former Guantanamo prisoners resettled in Uruguay last December in their protest outside the US Embassy (Photo: F. Flores/El País Uruguay).Ever since it was first announced, over a year ago, that six Guantánamo prisoners would be resettled in Uruguay, I have followed the story closely. Uruguay was a fascinating choice for resettlement, with its humble, left-wing president who had also been a political prisoner, and in December, when the six men were freed, there was considerably more media interest that there usually is when prisoners are released — or, as with the six men freed in December, resettled, because they either couldn’t be repatriated at all (as was the case for one of their number, the last Palestinian at Guantánamo) or they couldn’t be safely repatriated (as was the case for the other five men, four Syrians and a Tunisian).

Since their arrival, however, the six men have had difficulty adapting to their new lives. This is unsurprising, given that they are almost certainly all suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, that they are far from home in a Spanish-speaking country with almost no Muslim population, and, most crucially, that they are separated from their families. I had hoped that their transition to a new life would be smoother, and would have involved them being swiftly reunited with their families, but that has not happened, and instead they have gone public with their dissatisfaction — aimed, it should be noted, primarily at the US government, who, the men believe, is not doing enough for them.

In March, I wrote an article about how the men were struggling to adapt to their new lives, which included a request to the Argentinian government to follow Uruguay’s example and take in more prisoners approved for release from Guantánamo but still held. That request was made by Abu Wa’el Dhiab, one of the Syrians, and a well-known figure in Guantánamo circles, because of his effort, last year, to challenge the US authorities’ force-feeding methods through the US courts. Read the rest of this entry »

Appeals Court Refuses to Allow Government to Block Release of Guantánamo Force-Feeding Tapes

Abu Wa'el Dhiab photographed after his release in Uruguay with a picture he painted after his release (Photo: Oscar Bonilla).Last Friday, the appeals court in Washington, D.C. — the D.C. Circuit Court — kept alive hopes that the US government will be forced to release footage of a hunger striking Guantánamo prisoner being violently removed from his cell and force-fed, when a three-judge panel — consisting of Chief Judge Merrick Garland, Judge Patricia Millett and Judge Robert Wilkins — refused to accept an appeal by the government arguing against the release of the videotapes.

When the court heard the case last month, Justice Department attorneys “argued that the courts cannot order evidence used in trial to be unsealed if it has been classified by the government,” as The Intercept described it. Justice Department lawyer Catherine Dorsey told the judges, “We don’t think there is a First Amendment right to classified documents.” The Intercept added that the judges “appeared skeptical. Chief Judge Merrick Garland characterized the government’s position as tantamount to claiming the court ‘has absolutely no authority’ to unseal evidence even if it’s clear the government’s bid to keep it secret is based on ‘irrationality’ or that it’s ‘hiding something.'”

The tapes are of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner who spent last year challenging the government’s force-feeding program in the courts. Dhiab was freed in Uruguay in December, but his case continues. In June, Cori Crider, one of Dhiab’s lawyers at the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, said after viewing the videos, which have only to date been seen by the lawyers, “While I’m not allowed to discuss the contents of these videos, I can say that I had trouble sleeping after viewing them.”

Writing of the ruling, Reprieve noted that the court “ordered the Obama Administration to redact 12 hours of secret Guantánamo force-feeding footage in preparation for its public release, rejecting the Administration’s argument that not one single frame should be seen by the public.” Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer’s Latest Words from Guantánamo; Thanks Roger Waters, Says, “I Am An Innocent Man and a Good Person”

Andy Worthington and Joanne MacInnes of We Stand With Shaker with music legend Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd) at the launch of the campaign outside the Houses of Parliament on November 24, 2014 (Photo: Stefano Massimo).In the latest news about Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who has long been cleared for release, and who wants only to return to his family in London, his lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of the legal action charity Reprieve, released sections from a number of Shaker’s recent letters from the prison. Clive made Shaker’s words available to We Stand With Shaker, the campaign group I established with Joanne MacInnes last November.

The quotes were subsequently made available to the media and were read out in Parliament yesterday by Jeremy Corbyn MP (Labour, Islington North), a member of the cross-party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, and one of four MPs — along with the Conservatives David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, and his Labour colleague Andy Slaughter — who visited Washington D.C. two weeks ago to discuss Shaker’s case with senior officials.

In a foreign affairs debate in the House of Commons yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn urged ministers to “step up the fight to free Mr. Aamer,” as the Daily Mail described it. “He has never been charged, never been prosecuted, never been through any legal process whatsoever,” Mr. Corbyn said, adding, “Can we have an undertaking from the Foreign Office to follow this up with real vigour to push the Obama administration to name the date by which Shaker Aamer will be released and returned to his family?” 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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