Archive for January, 2016

Fawzi Al-Odah Speaks: First Interview with Kuwaiti Released from Guantánamo in 2014

In this photo released by the al-Odah family, Fawzi al-Odah is shown with an unidentified relative on the left and his father Khalid on the right on his arrival in Kuwait on November 6, 2014.Via the Arabic language newspaper Al-Rai, the Kuwait Times last week featured the first interview with former Guantánamo prisoner Fawzi al-Odah since his release from the prison in November 2014, which I’m posting below with some minor changes of my own to the English language translation to make it more comprehensible.

Fawzi hasn’t spoken before, because he was in a rehabilitation center in Kuwait for a year after his release, and because no one in Kuwait wanted to do anything that might jeopardize the release of Fayiz al-Kandari, the last Kuwaiti in Guantánamo, who was freed just three weeks ago. I visited the rehabilitation center during a visit to Kuwait in February 2012, to work towards securing the release of Fawzi and Fayiz, and the photos below are from that visit. At the time the facility, located next to Kuwait’s main prison, was empty, but it had briefly been used for the two prisoners previously released, who returned to Kuwait in 2009. The government had staffed it, and had clearly spent money — and was still spending money — that was only for Fawzi and Fayiz, and yet they remained entangled in the absurd bureaucracy of Guantánamo.

I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the story that Fawzi told the Kuwaiti media. In Guantánamo, for example, he always maintained, as I described it in 2007 in my book The Guantánamo Files, that he “took a short vacation and travelled to Afghanistan in August 2001 ‘to teach and to help other people.’ After finding a liaison in the Taliban, which ‘was necessary because that was the government in Afghanistan at that time,’ he was ‘touring the schools and visiting families,’ teaching the Koran and handing out money, until his activities were curtailed after 9/11.” As I explained after his release, “He said he was then advised to leave the country, and given instructions about how to do so, and ended up, with other men, crossing the border into Pakistan, where they were then handed over to the Pakistani authorities.” Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses the Potential Closure of Guantánamo with Chris Cook in Canada and on South African Radio

Andy Worthington (center) and Aliya Hussain of the Center for Constitutional Rights outside the White House on January 11, 2016, the 14th anniversary of the opening of the prison. Behind Andy is the giant inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer that was at the heart of the We Stand With Shaker campaign (Photo: Justin Norman for Witness Against Torture).It’s been a busy month — firstly, with my visit to the US to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo, focused on the 14th anniversary of the opening of the prison on January 11, and then with the launch of my new campaign, the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, on January 20. That campaign was officially launched on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman, when I appeared with Roger Waters, a supporter of my work and of the campaign to get Guantánamo closed, who also played a major role in publicizing the We Stand With Shaker campaign that I launched in November 2014, with the activist Joanne MacInnes, to secure the release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo.

On Wednesday, I spoke to Chris Cook for his Gorilla Radio show in British Columbia. Chris and I last spoke a year ago, and our latest interview is available here as an MP3, beginning at 38:20.

Chris and I spoke about my tour, Roger Waters, the successful campaign to get Shaker released the Countdown to Close Guantánamo and how the prison might finally be closed, and I hope you have time to listen to the show. Read the rest of this entry »

Appeals Court Rules That Tories’ Hated, Useless Bedroom Tax Involves “Unlawful Discrimination”; But Will It Ever Be Scrapped?

A campaigner holding up an "Axe the Bedroom Tax" sign at a protest in 2013.It’s been a while since I found the time to write about the depressing realities of life in the UK under the particularly cruel and inept government of David Cameron and George Osborne, as I’ve been so busy lately with my work trying to get the prison at Guantánamo Bay closed. However, not a day goes by that I’m not enraged by their persistent efforts to destroy the state provision of almost all services in the UK, to punish the poor for being poor, and to enrich the rich for being rich.

So I’m pleased to note that there was a small victory yesterday, regarding the bedroom tax, when the appeals court ruled that it was discriminatory in two particular cases. The bedroom tax — technically, the “under-occupancy penalty” — is an abomination, and when I last wrote about it, I described it as a policy “whereby a cabinet of millionaires, with more rooms than they can count, passed legislation forcing people on benefits living in social housing who are deemed to have a ‘spare room’ to downsize, even though there are few smaller properties to move to, and many people, treated as worthless ‘units’ by the government and kicked out of their homes, have had to be rehoused in the private sector, thereby increasing the overall housing benefit bill.”

Of course, the only people who really have “spare rooms” are those like the Tories who live in mansions. Most of those subjected to the bedroom tax may have a room that, technically, is not a bedroom or a living room, but I find it unthinkable that a decent human being would begrudge another the luxury of a spare room. Read the rest of this entry »

Two Yemenis Approved for Release from Guantánamo Via Periodic Review Boards As “Highly Compliant” Afghan and Another Yemeni Also Seek Release

Zahir Hamdoun, in a photo made available by his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights.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. Please also get involved in the new Countdown to Close Guantánamo.

Two weeks into the Guantánamo prison’s 15th year of operations, the last of a wave of recent releases has taken place — with 16 men freed between January 6 and January 20 — but progress towards the prison’s closure continues.

Of particular significance on this front are the ongoing Periodic Review Boards. Of the 91 men still held, 34 have been approved for release. 24 of those men were approved for release six unforgivably long years ago, by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009, but ten others have been approved for release in the last two years, by Periodic Review Boards, set up to review the cases of most of the other men still held at Guantánamo. Just ten of these men are facing– or have faced — trials, leaving 47 others awaiting PRBs, or the result of PRBs, or, in a few cases, repeat reviews. Just ten of the men still held are facing, or have faced trials.

Initially, the PRBs were meant to be for 48 men recommended for ongoing detention by the task force in January 2010 on the basis that they were “too dangerous to release,” even though the task force’s members acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. President Obama at least tacitly acknowledged that this was a disgraceful basis on which to deprive people of their liberty, by promising periodic reviews of the men’s cases when he authorized their ongoing detention in March 2011, although he failed to spell out why — because, of course, not having enough evidence to try someone means that the information you hold is not evidence at all, but rumors, hunches and hearsay, from frontline interrogations made shortly after capture, when the use of violence was widespread, and from other statements made by the prisoners later, about themselves and about each other, in interrogations at Guantánamo — or, in some cases, “black sites” — where the use of torture, abuse and bribery (the promise of better living conditions) was widespread. Read the rest of this entry »

Seriously Ill Egyptian and a Yemeni Freed from Guantánamo in Bosnia and Montenegro; Another Refuses to Leave

Abdul Aziz-al-Suadi (aka al-Swidi), a Yemeni, and one of two prisoners freed from Guantanamo on January 20, 2016. He was rehoused in Montenegro.On Wednesday, with exactly one year left until the end of Barack Obama’s presidency, two more prisoners were released from Guantánamo, leaving 91 men still held. A third man was supposed to have been freed, but he refused at the last minute.

One of the two men freed, Tariq al-Sawah (ISN 535), also identified as Tariq El-Sawah, who is 58 years old, had gained some notoriety in the past — first as a disillusioned former training camp instructor who had become a welcome informant in Guantánamo, and then as he became seriously overweight, endangering his health. At one point, he weighted 420 pounds, double his weight on arrival at the prison in 2002.

In 2013, as his lawyers sought his release because of his ill-health and his cooperation, I explained how he “had high-level support for his release,” having “received letters of recommendation from three former Guantánamo commanders,” as the Associated Press described it. I stated, “One, Rear Adm. David Thomas, recommended his release in his classified military file (his Detainee Assessment Brief) in September 2008, which was released by WikiLeaks in 2011 … In that file, al-Sawah’s health issues were also prominent. It was noted that he was ‘closely watched for significant and chronic problems’ that included high cholesterol, diabetes and liver disease.” Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: As the Prison at Guantánamo Begins Its 15th Year of Operations, Andy Worthington Speaks on US Radio

Andy Worthington outside the White House in Washington, D.C. on January 11, 2016 at a protest marking the 14th anniversary of the opening of the prison (Photo: Debra Sweet).From January 8-18, I was in the US for a brief tour to highlight the importance of closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, coinciding with the 14th anniversary of the opening of the prison, on January 11. I visited Miami, Washington, D.C. and New York City, and videos of my various escapades can be found here, including appearing with my friend and supporter, the music legend Roger Waters, on Democracy Now!

I also took part in a number of radio shows, and am making those available below. I hope you have time to listen to them, and to share them if you find them useful. I’m keeping my description of them quite brief, as I’m snowed under with other Guantánamo-related work right now — in particular the launch of the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, a new initiative, via the Close Guantánamo campaign I set up with the US attorney Tom Wilner in 2012, asking people to print off a poster calling for President Obama to close Guantánamo before he leaves office in a year’s time, to photograph themselves standing with the poster, and to send it to us to put up on the website and to publicize via social media. I hope you will get involved!

On the morning of January 11, just before I took part in the annual protest outside the White House, and a panel discussion at New America, I spoke to Jerome McDonnell on his show “Worldview” on WBEZ 91.5 in Chicago. The show is available on Soundcloud, and is posted below, and this is how Jerome described it: Read the rest of this entry »

Video: On Democracy Now! Roger Waters and Andy Worthington Discuss the Countdown to Close Guantánamo and the Campaign to Free Shaker Aamer

Andy Worthington, Roger Waters and 16-year old cellist Alexander Rohatyn on Democracy Now! on January 22, 2016. Andy and Roger were launching the Countdown to Close Guantanamo, and Roger and Alexander played Roger's version of "We Shall Overcome."Last Friday, during my brief US tour to campaign for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on and around the 14th anniversary of the opening of the prison (on Jan. 11), I was invited onto Democracy Now! with my friend and supporter, the music legend Roger Waters, the chief songwriter with Pink Floyd.

We were asked on the show to discuss, with Amy Goodman, the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, the new campaign I’ve just launched to get Guantánamo closed for good before President Obama leaves office next January, and the successful campaign to free Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo.

The video of our discussion — plus Roger playing his version of “We Shall Overcome” with 16-year old cellist Alexander Rohatyn — was the lead item on today’s show, and is now online and posted below (the song is here). Please share it widely! It’s also on YouTube here.

Read the rest of this entry »

The “Countdown to Close Guantánamo” Launches: Send in Your Photos Asking President Obama to Fulfill His Promise to Close the Prison

Former Guantanamo prisoner Shaker Aamer photographed outside the US Embassy in London supporting the new "Countdown to Close Guantanamo" initiative (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. In the photo here, former Guantánamo prisoner Shaker Aamer supports the new “Countdown to Close Guantánamo” initiative. See more on the Celebrity Photos page and also the Public Photos page, and please send in your own photos — see below for details!

January 20, 2016 marked the beginning of the last year of the Obama presidency, and tomorrow (January 22) marks the seventh anniversary of President Obama’s promise to close the lawless prison at Guantánamo Bay within a year, which he made on his second day in office in January 2009. To highlight the president’s last chance to fulfill his promise to close the prison, the “Close Guantánamo” campaign has launched a new initiative, the “Countdown to Close Guantánamo.”

The “Countdown to Close Guantánamo” encourages celebrities, lawmakers and concerned members of the public, from the US and around the world, to take photos of themselves holding signs counting down to the end of the Obama presidency, urging President Obama to close the prison before the inauguration of the next president on January 20, 2017.

Our first poster, reading, “President Obama, you have one year left to close Guantánamo,” was made available when the campaign launched, on Jan, 20. It is being followed, throughout the year, by posters counting down every 50 days — so “350 days” is on February 4, “300 days” will be on March 25, and so on.

Please print off the 350 days poster, take a photo of yourself holding it, and send it to: info@closeguantanamo.org.

Read the rest of this entry »

Pentagon Blocks Prisoner Releases from Guantánamo – Including 74-Pound Yemeni Hunger Striker

Members of the campaigning group Witness Against Torture hold up a banner featuring an image of Tariq Ba Odah outside the White House in June 2015 (Photo: Matt Daloisio via Flickr).As the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba begins its 15th year of operations, there has been a flurry of mainstream media interest, in part because 2016 is President Obama’s last year in office, and yet, when he was first inaugurated in January 2009, he promised to close Guantánamo within a year, an unfulfilled promise that is bound to tarnish his legacy unless he can make good on that promise in his last twelve months in office.

A major report was recently published by Reuters, which focused in particular on the ways in which the Pentagon has been obstructing the release of prisoners, as was clear from the title of the article by Charles Levinson and David Rohde: “Pentagon thwarts Obama’s effort to close Guantánamo.”

Blocking the release of 74-pound hunger striker Tariq Ba Odah

The article began with a damning revelation about Tariq Ba Odah, a Yemeni prisoner who has been on a hunger strike for seven years, and whose weight has dropped, alarmingly, to just 74 pounds (from 148 pounds on his arrival at the prison in 2002), and who is at risk of death. Ba Odah has been unsuccessful in his recent efforts to persuade a judge to order his release, but he is eligible for release anyway. Back in 2009, when President Obama established the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force to assess all the prisoners’ cases, he was one of 30 Yemenis approved for release but placed in “conditional detention,” a category invented by the task force, which recommended that those placed in this category should only be freed when it was assessed — by whom, it was not explained — that the security situation in Yemen had improved. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Andy Worthington Discusses the Struggle to Free Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo, Plays “Song for Shaker Aamer” at Revolution Books, NYC

Andy Worthington speaking about the struggle to free Shaker Aamer from Guantanamo at Revolution Books in New York on January 14, 2016 (screenshot from the video of the event).My short US tour to call for the closure of the lawless prison at Guantánamo Bay is almost over, but it has been a worthwhile visit, with events in Florida, Washington D.C. and New York City. On Thursday, I spoke for the first time at Revolution Books‘ new home in Harlem, about the successful campaign to free Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo, an immensely enjoyable evening in which a special guest in the audience was music legend Roger Waters, a supporter of my work and of the campaign to free Shaker for many years. The day after, Roger and I recorded a show for Democracy Now! which will be aired this week.

For my talk at Revolution Books, I was introduced by Debra Sweet, the national director of the World Can’t Wait, who has been organizing my annual visits on and around the anniversary of the opening of the prison (on January 11) every year since January 2011 — and who first organized visits for me (but not in January), in 2009 and 2010.

The video of the event, via Vimeo, is below. My talk begins at 10:09, and over the next 40 minutes I spoke about the campaign to free Shaker, through the work of the We Stand With Shaker campaign I launched in November 2014 with the activist Joanne MacInnes, the long-running Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, and the crucial support of the media and of MPs, led, initially, by John McDonnell, now the Shadow Chancellor, and then with great cross-party support from MPs including the Conservatives David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, and Jeremy Corbyn, now the leader of the Labour Party. 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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