Archive for July, 2015

Photos: Mud and Magic at WOMAD 2015

Flags at WOMAD, at Charlton Park in Wiltshire, in July 2015 (Photo: Andy Worthington).See my photo set on Flickr here!

I have been visiting WOMAD — World of Music, Arts and Dance, the world music festival established by Peter Gabriel and a number of colleagues in 1982 — as an artist since 2002, helping my wife run children’s workshops with a number of other friends, and this year our posse — eight adults, five teenagers and two children — survived the rainiest WOMAD in our collective experience, although it couldn’t dampen our spirits, or that of WOMAD as a whole. (See here and here for my photos from 2012, and here for 2014).

WOMAD has been based at Charlton Park in Wiltshire, in the grounds of a stately home, since 2007, notorious in WOMAD’s history as the year when the new site was churned up before the festival even began and turned into an unparalleled mudfest as soon as the festival-goers arrived. This year wasn’t quite as arduous as 2007, but it wasn’t far off. Friday began and ended with rain (often torrential), and although Saturday was sunny, it began raining again on the Sunday and didn’t let up much for the rest of the day — although there was a wonderful interlude when the sun shone for the children’s procession, an annual highlight of the festival.

So while we were inconvenienced and tested by the weather, we continued to take in the great music that is always on offer, and this year my discoveries included Pascuala Ilabaca, a Chilean singer and accordion player, with the voice of an angel, the powerful African reggae singer Tiken Jah Fakoly, and the Atomic Bomb! Band playing the music of the reclusive Nigerian funk star William Onyeabor, while old faves included the Tuareg desert blues of Tinariwen. Read the rest of this entry »

I’m Away at WOMAD for Six Days: Why Not Check Out My CD, ‘Love and War’ by The Four Fathers?

Children on the WOMAD sign at the 2012 festival in Wiltshire (Photo: Andy Worthington).My friends,

Every year, on the last weekend in July, I travel to Charlton Park in Wiltshire with my family and friends for the WOMAD world music festival, where my wife runs children’s workshops, where the sun nearly always shines, and there is great music from all around the world — and there is always some great band from west Africa, especially Mali, that I love. I know a few of the bands playing this year — Tinariwen, for example, and the Mahotella Queens — but not many. One of WOMAD’s great pleasures is discovering musicians that I didn’t know previously.

WOMAD also provides an opportunity for me to sing and play guitar at our camp, in one of the crew camping areas — with two other members of my band The Four Fathers, Richard and Louis. Traditionally, we’ve played a lot of covers — a lot of Bob Dylan and the Pogues, for example, but since last year I’ve written a number of songs that are featured on The Four Fathers’ debut album, ‘Love and War’, available here on CD for just £7/$11 plus P&P — and we’ll no doubt be playing unplugged versions of them this year. They include ‘Song for Shaker Aamer’, which is featured in the campaign video for We Stand With Shaker, the campaign calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, which I established with the activist Joanne MacInnes last November.

The video is below: Read the rest of this entry »

16th Guantánamo Prisoner Seeks Release Via Periodic Review Board

Guantanamo prisoner Salman Rabei'i, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.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 Tuesday, July 14, a Yemeni prisoner at Guantánamo, Salman Yahya Hassan Muhammad Rabei’i, 36, became the 16th prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board. The boards — which consist 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 — were established in 2013 to review the cases of all the men still held who were not already approved for release, with the exception of those facing trials, based on the decisions taken by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, which President Obama established in 2009. In its final report in January 2010, the task force recommended that 48 men should continue to be held because they were regarded as too dangerous to release, although it was also acknowledged that there was insufficient evidence to put them on trial.

This, of course, meant that the recommendation to continue holding them were based on information that did not raise to the level of evidence — hearsay, or statements made by prisoners under torture or other forms of duress, for example. To sweeten this bitter pill, President Obama promised periodic reviews of their cases, and when the PRBs were finally established, nearly three years later, two of the 48 had died, but 25 others had been added, from the 36 men recommended for trials by the task force. These 25 were added because of a startling collapse in the legitimacy of the military commmisions, after the appeals court in Washington D.C. began dismissing convictions because the trial system relied on war crimes that were not war crimes, but had been invented by Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

Please Ask Your MP to Join the Shaker Aamer All-Party Parliamentary Group, Working to Secure Shaker’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.It’s eight months since the Labour MP John McDonnell MP, an indefatigable campaigner for justice, established the Shaker Aamer All-Party Parliamentary Group, to call for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who is still held, despite being approved for release by the US authorities twice — in 2007, under George W. Bush, and in 2009, under Barack Obama.

With support from the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, which spent many years working to get the Parliamentary Group established, and also from We Stand With Shaker, the campaign group established by Andy Worthington and Joanne MacInnes, which was also launched eight months ago, the Parliamentary Group sent a delegation to Washington D.C. after the General Election in May. The four MPs involved — the Conservative MPs David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, and the Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Slaughter — met with Senators, including John McCain and Dianne Feinstein, and Obama administration officials, in the hope of securing a timeline for Shaker’s release, although no date has been given, despite repeated rumors that it would be this summer, and despite a hard-hitting op-ed in the New York Times by the MPs, who wrote, “There is simply no reason, domestic or international, for the United States to keep Mr. Aamer in custody,” and also stated, “It is difficult for us to shake off the depressing notion that the Obama administration is indifferent to the repeated requests of the British government,” adding that this is “a slap in the face for America’s staunchest friend.”

Prior to this, in March, the Parliamentary Group also secured a hugely important debate in the House of Commons, which led to the government supporting the motion “call[ing] on the US Government to release Shaker Aamer from his imprisonment in Guantánamo Bay and to allow him to return to his family in the UK.” Read the rest of this entry »

Please Listen, Anywhere in the World, to My Online Radio Show on Sunday July 19, Discussing Guantánamo, Playing Songs by My Band The Four Fathers

Andy Worthington, singing with his band The Four Fathers, at a party on July 4, 2015.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, due to an emergency involving the radio station’s management, the show cannot take place, as there will be no one at the station, and one of Hamja’s previous shows will be played instead. Apologies for any inconvenience. I will try and reschedule.

On Sunday, at 3pm GMT (that’s 10am Eastern Time), I’ll be hosting a two-hour radio show on One Harmony Radio, an online community radio station in Brockley, south east London, where I live. I’m standing in for activist/curator Hamja Ahsan, who has to attend Eid celebrations.

Here’s One Harmony Radio‘s website, so please listen online at 3pm on Sunday!

I appeared on the show with Hamja on June 28, and had a great time, reading from my books The Guantánamo Files , The Battle of the Beanfield and Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion, playing some of my favourite songs — including  a number of roots reggae classics — and also playing “Fighting Injustice,” a song I wrote that is featured on my band The Four Fathers‘ debut album, “Love and War” — available for just £7/$11, which can be sent anywhere in the world. Read the rest of this entry »

Report Damns American Psychological Association for Collusion in US Torture Program

An image created by the Guardian to accompany its report about the American Psychological Association scandal following a highly critical report made public in July 2015.On July 11, a damning new report concluded that US psychologists, via their largest professional organization, the American Psychological Association (APA), betrayed their core principles by working far too closely with the CIA and the Pentagon on interrogations in the post-9/11 “war on terror,” and, in the process, provided what appeared to be justification for the Bush administration’s torture program.

The 542-page report, entitled, “Independent Review Relating to APA Ethics Guidelines, National Security Interrogations, and Torture,” is “the result of a seven-month investigation by a team led by David Hoffman, a Chicago lawyer with the firm Sidley Austin at the request of the psychology association’s board,” as the New York Times explained in the article that broke the story. That article was by James Risen, and the APA had commissioned the report last year after the publication of Risen’s book Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and Endless War, which, as the magazine Science described it, “accused the organization of providing cover for torture.”

In his article, Risen began by pointing out how crucial the support of psychologists was for the Bush administration’s abusive treatment of prisoners during interrogations after the 9/11 attacks. He stated that the Hoffman report concluded that, although the CIA’s health professionals “repeatedly criticized the agency’s post-Sept. 11 interrogation program,” their protests “were rebuffed by prominent outside psychologists who lent credibility to the program.” Read the rest of this entry »

Despite His Conviction Being Quashed Three Times, Guantánamo Prisoner Ali Hamza Al-Bahlul Remains in Solitary Confinement

Guantanamo prisoner Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.For some prisoners held in the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, it seems there really is no way out. One example would seem to be Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a 45-year old Yemeni prisoner and a propagandist for al-Qaeda, who made a promotional video glorifying the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000, in which 17 US soldiers died, and who received a life sentence for providing material support for terrorism, conspiring with al-Qaeda and soliciting murder after a one-sided military commission trial in the dying days of the Bush administration.

Al-Bahlul has been held in solitary confinement ever since — on what is known as “Convicts’ Corridor,” according to Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, even though, since January 2013, he has had every part of his conviction overturned in the US courts — most recently in a ruling by the appeals court in Washington D.C. (the D.C. Circuit Court) on June 12.

In January 2013, a three-judge panel in the D.C. Circuit Court overturned the material support and solicitation convictions, on the basis that the charges of which he was convicted were not recognized as war crimes at the time he was accused of committing them; or, to put it another way, that they had been invented as war crimes by Congress. That ruling drew on a ground-breaking ruling by the D.C. Circuit Court three months earlier, overturning the material support conviction against another man, Salim Hamdan, a driver for Osama bin Laden who was freed in December 2008. The decision in al-Bahlul’s case was confirmed by a full panel of judges in July 2014, and the judges last month overturned the conspiracy conviction — on the basis that conspiracy is not a crime under the international law of war. Read the rest of this entry »

US Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo Force-Feeding Tapes, Condemns Government Delays

Former Guantanamo prisoner Abu Wa'el Dhiab after his release (in Uruguay in December 2014). This is a screen shot from a TV broadcast in Argentina, where Mr. Dhiab travelled in February, to call for the government to offer new homes to other Guantanamo prisoners.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.

Sick of delaying tactics, a US federal court judge has ordered the government to stop wasting time with “frivolous” appeals against her rulings, and to release videotapes showing a Guantánamo prisoner being brutally force-fed.

On October 3 last year, in the District Court in Washington D.C., Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the government to prepare for public release 32 videotapes of a Guantánamo prisoner, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, being dragged from his cell and force-fed. The tapes contained 11 hours of footage in total, and, as I explained at the time, Judge Kessler responded to the government’s concerns about the need for anonymity for US personnel by ordering them to be “redacted for ‘all identifiers of individuals’ other than Mr. Dhiab.”

That was over nine months ago, and on Friday (July 10), Judge Kessler ordered the government to “complete all national security-related redactions to the first eight tapes — which show Abu Wa’el Dhiab being forcibly removed from his cell and tube-fed — by August 31, and to complete other key redactions by September 30,” as Mr. Dhiab’s lawyers at Reprieve explained in a press release. Read the rest of this entry »

George Osborne’s Savage Cuts to Some of the UK’s Most Vulnerable People in His ‘Emergency Budget’

George Osborne (far left) in a photo taken in Oxford in 1992, of the notorious Bullingdon Club, a drinking club for the university's privileged elite.What a horrible, despicable bunch of vicious bullies the Tories are, obsessed with making the poor poorer and the rich richer, while cynically dressing up their abuse in the language of fairness and aspiration.

In the Tories’ first budget since the electorate bizarrely freed them from the restraints of coalition with the Liberal Democrats, the Chancellor, George Osborne, delivered an ’emergency budget’ that was, no doubt, supposed to make us feel that we are in a state of emergency, still in need of savage cuts for the health of the economy, even though the false and damaging rationale for austerity has been thoroughly discredited time and again by economists, who understand that it actually stifles economic health. How Osborne has got away with his cruelty and stupidity for so many years almost beggars belief, as he has not managed to save any money, despite making life miserable for millions, but our bent media urging people to turn on one another  — and a sad propensity for British people to revert to Puritan self-flagellation when prompted — seem to be to blame.

And so Osborne’s budget hit poor people hard on a number of fronts, while hiding much of the pain behind one generous gesture inherited from the Lib Dems and another that is nowhere near as good as it sounds. The former is the raising of the threshold at which tax is paid, to £11,000 a year, while the latter is the surprise announcement of what George Osborne described as a ‘National Living Wage.’

This was supposed to hide another policy tweak that is nakedly for the benefit of the rich — the raising of the threshold at which inheritance tax is paid, so that £1m houses can now be handed on to children without the state taking a penny, an increase from £650,000. Even the Daily Telegraph had trouble justifying that. “Today’s emergency Budget has brought huge inheritance tax savings for people with expensive properties,” an article explained. Read the rest of this entry »

Write to the Guantánamo Prisoners, Don’t Let Them Be Forgotten

Photos of some of the Guantanamo prisoners, made available when classified military files from Guantanamo were released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Every six months, I ask people to write to the prisoners in Guantánamo, to let them — and the US authorities — know that they have not been forgotten.

The letter-writing campaign was started five years ago by two Facebook friends, Shahrina J. Ahmed and Mahfuja Bint Ammu, and it has been repeated every six months (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here for my articles encouraging opponents of Guantánamo to write to the prisoners). Their latest campaign coincided with the start of Ramadan, on June 12, and I’m following up in the hope that, as Ramadan continues, you too can send a letter to some or all of the men to let them know they’ve not been forgotten.

See the video here of former prisoner Omar Deghayes explaining how important it is to receive cards and letters from the outside world.

Since the start of February, when — slightly belatedly — I last encouraged opponents of Guantánamo to write to the prisoners, just six men have been released. 116 men are now held — 44 cleared for release in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force established by President Obama when he took office in 2009, and eight others cleared for release in the last year and a half by a new review process, the Periodic Review Boards, which started in 2013.

In the list below, I have divided the remaining 116 prisoners into those cleared for release (52), those listed as being eligible for Periodic Review Boards (54) and those charged or tried in the military commissions system (10). Please note that I have largely kept the spelling used by the US authorities in the “Final Dispositions” of the Guantánamo Review Task Force, which was released through FOIA legislation in June 2013. Even though these names are often inaccurate, they are the names by which the men are officially known in Guantánamo  — even though, in their everyday dealings with the US authorities, they are all still referred to, not as human beings with names, but as numbers. 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.
Email Andy Worthington

CD: Love and War

Love and War by The Four Fathers

The Guantánamo Files book cover

The Guantánamo Files

The Battle of the Beanfield book cover

The Battle of the Beanfield

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion book cover

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

Outside The Law DVD cover

Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo

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