Archive for January, 2016

Ten Yemenis Freed from Guantánamo, Given New Homes in Oman; Now 93 Men Remain

Fahd Ghazy, photographed before his capture and his rendition to Guantanamo.As the disgraceful US prison at Guantánamo Bay begins its 15th year of operations, President Obama has been busy attempting to show that, with just one year left in office, he is determined to close the prison, as he promised to do on his second day in office back in January 2009, when he promised to close it within a year. Last month, we heard that 17 men would be released in January, and the releases began just days before the 14th anniversary of the opening of the prison with the release of two Yemenis in Ghana and the return to Kuwait of Fayiz al-Kandari, the last Kuwaiti in the prison. On the actual anniversary, a Saudi was returned home, and two days after the anniversary ten more Yemenis were released in Oman, Yemen’s neighbor, to add to the ten Yemenis sent to Oman last year.

David Remes, who represents three of the men sent to Oman, said it was “a particularly good fit for them,” as the New York Times described it. “I’m sure that they are ecstatic just leaving Guantánamo,” he said. “But it’s even better than that. They’ve been sent to Oman, an Arab country, whose language, culture and religion are their own. Oman is also one of Yemen’s neighbors, so their families will be able to visit them often.”

Three more releases — of unidentified prisoners to unidentified countries — are expected soon, and, after the release of the ten men to Oman, Lee Wolosky, the Special Envoy for Guantánamo Closure in the State Department, said, “We expect to be in a position to empty Guantánamo of all detainees who are currently approved for transfer by this summer.” Including the three men who are expected to be freed soon, Wolosky’s description currently applies to 34 of the 93 men still held  — 25 since January 2010, who were approved for release by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, and nine in the last two years, by a new review process, the Periodic Review Boards. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Will Guantánamo Ever Close? Andy Worthington, Karen Greenberg and Tom Wilner at New America on Jan. 11

The panel at New America for the discussion, "Guantanamo Bay: Year 14," on jan. 11, the 14th anniversary of the opening of the prison. From L to R: moderator Peter Bergen, panelists Karen Greenberg, Andy Worthington and Tom Wilner.Monday was the 14th anniversary of the opening of the dreadful, unforgivable “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where men are held without charge or trial, in defiance of all the laws and treaties that the US swore to uphold until the 9/11 attacks derailed those beliefs — or allowed the country’s leaders to deliberately jettison them in favor of something far more brutal and unaccountable.

On Monday, I attended the annual protest outside the White House organized by over a dozen rights groups, as the co-founder and co-director of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, which played a part in securing the release from Guantánamo in October of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and as the co-founder of Close Guantánamo, a campaign I established in 2012 with the attorney Tom Wilner (who fought for the prisoners’ habeas corpus rights in the Supreme Court in 2004 and 2008). The video of my speech outside the White House is here.

That afternoon, just around the corner from the White House, at New America (formerly the New America Foundation), Tom Wilner and I were joined by the academic Karen Greenberg for a panel discussion, Guantánamo Bay: Year 14, moderated by New America’s Peter Bergen, author, journalist and an old college friend of mine, which is posted below via Ustream. I’ll also post a YouTube link when it becomes available. Read the rest of this entry »

Fayiz Al-Kandari is Free! The Last Kuwaiti in Guantánamo Is Released, Plus a Saudi: Now 103 Men Remain

Fayiz al-Kandari reunited with his father after his release from Guantanamo (Photo courtesy of Barry Wingard).For Fayiz al-Kandari, the last Kuwaiti held at Guantánamo, who turned 40 at the prison in 2015, there is finally justice, as he was released on Friday January 10 and sent back home, over 14 years after he was first seized in Afghanistan, where, he always maintained, he had traveled to engage in humanitarian aid work.

Fayiz’s release, and that of another prisoner, a Saudi, appears to provide a demonstration of President Obama’s renewed commitment to close Guantánamo in his last year in office, as four men have now been freed in the last few days, and 13 more releases are expected soon. Without a doubt, it also provides further vindication that the Periodic Review Board process at Guantánamo — established in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release or facing trials — is working. in the cases of both men, they were recommended for continued imprisonment after PRBs, but were then reviewed again, when they both worked harder to convince the boards that they pose no threat and want only to rebuild their lives in peace — as, it should be noted, do most of the 103 men still held.

Of the 18 cases so far decided in PRBs, 15 have ended with recommendation for the release of the prisoners — a great result when all were previously regarded as “too dangerous to release” — although the process is moving far too slowly. Those 18 cases took over two years, and 42 other men are awaiting reviews, which will not be completed until 2020 at the current pace. If President Obama is serious about closing Guantánamo, he needs to find a way to speed up the process considerably in his last 12 months in office. Read the rest of this entry »

Videos: On 14th Anniversary of Opening of Guantánamo, Andy Worthington Speaks Outside the White House, Shaker Aamer Speaks in London

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).Yesterday was the 14th anniversary of the opening of the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, and I was honored to attend a powerful protest outside the White House, featuring representatives of over a dozen rights groups, and with prominent roles played by the activists of Witness Against Torture. I had spent much of the previous day at the church where many dozens of them are staying, engaged in a 10-day fast and daily actions across the capital aimed at raising awareness of the injustice of Guantánamo and the plight of the men held there, and, in the evening, had joined them and representatives of Code Pink, the Center for Constitutional Rights and other organizations at “Visions of Homecoming: Close Guantánamo!

This was an event celebrating the groups’ visit to Cuba in November, where I also spoke about We Stand With Shaker (the campaign I co-founded in November 2014, with the activist Joanne MacInnes, to call for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison) and played “Song for Shaker Aamer,” the song I wrote that, with my band The Four Fathers, featured in the We Stand With Shaker campaign video (and on our album “Love and War“). Other performances on the night came from The Peace Poets, spoken word artists from the Bronx who I always find wonderfully uplifting, combining sharp rhymes and tough themes with an extraordinary humanity. I hope to post videos of performances from the evening in the near future — including my own!

At yesterday’s rally, I spoke about the success of the campaign to release Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, from the prison, but stressed how hard it had been to get just one man freed to America’s closest ally, involving the concerted efforts of many dozens of MPs and a range newspapers from across the political spectrum, campaigners and members of the general public, and even a request for action from David Cameron to Barack Obama. Read the rest of this entry »

Jan. 11 Protest at the White House: Rights Groups Call for President Obama to Close Guantánamo

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).Tomorrow is the 14th anniversary of the opening of the US “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and, as I have for the last five years, I will be outside the White House, as part of a protest involving over a dozen rights groups, calling for the closure of the prison as swiftly as possible.

My presence at the protest is part of a short US tour I’m undertaking to highlight the necessity to close Guantánamo without further delay. on Friday I flew into Miami form London — my first ever visit to Florida — where I was greeted by a great group of peace and social justice activists, and where, on Saturday, I attended a rally and march to the gates of US Southern Command, responsible for overseeing Guantánamo. Outside Southcom HQ, I spoke about the need for the prison to be closed, to end the torture of those held indefinitely without charge or trial, and to restore, to the US, some notion that this remains a country that respects justice and the rule of law, and that the illegality and brutality of the country’s response to 9/11 can finally be overcome. My thanks to the People’s Opposition to War, Imperialism, and Racism (POWIR) for organizing this event, and I’d like to say that what made it particularly impressive was the number of young people involved.

This year I have brought with me a giant inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who was finally freed from the prison on October 30, eight years after he was first told that the US no longer wanted to hold him, under President Bush, and six years after he was also approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009. Read the rest of this entry »

Seven Ex-Guantánamo Prisoners Unite in London to Call for Prison’s Closure on Jan. 11; Shaker Aamer Photographed With Inflatable Figure of Himself Outside US Embassy

A historic moment: Former Guantanamo prisoner Shaker Aamer photographed outside the US Embassy on January 7, 2015 with the inflatable figure of himself that was at the heart of the We Stand With Shaker campaign for his release (Photo: Stefano Massimo).Monday January 11 is the 14th anniversary of the opening of the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, and, as over a dozen rights groups hold a protest outside the White House, calling for President Obama to close Guantánamo in his last year in office, seven former Guantánamo prisoners from the UK will gather outside the US Embassy to also demand the closure of the prison.

The seven former prisoners are Shaker Aamer, Moazzam Begg, Ruhal Ahmad, Asif Iqbal, Shafiq Rasul, Bisher al-Rawi and Tarek Dergoul.

Ruhal Ahmad, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul (the Tipton Three) and Tarek Dergoul were released in 2004, Moazzam Begg was released in 2005, Bisher al-Rawi in 2007, and, after extraordinary campaigning from activists, MPs and the media, Shaker Aamer was released on October 30, 2015, eight years after he was first told that the US no longer wanted to hold him.

As the co-founder and co-director of the We Stand With Shaker campaign (with Joanne Macinnes), I will be taking part in the protest outside the White House, as part of a short tour to coincide with the 14th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, and I have brought with from the UK the giant inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer that was the centerpiece of the campaign. The photo above is of Shaker outside the US Embassy on January 7, when Joanne MacInnes and I met up with him to take the photo with campaign photographer Stefano Massimo. Read the rest of this entry »

Two Yemeni Prisoners Released from Guantánamo to Ghana; 105 Men Remain

Guantanamo prisoner Mahmoud Bin Atef, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Yesterday, the Pentagon announced that it had released two Yemeni prisoners from Guantánamo to new homes in Ghana. These releases are the first since November, when five Yemenis were given new homes in the United Arab Emirates, releases that followed the release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and the Mauritanian Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, at the end of October. With these releases, 105 men remain at the prison — including 46 also approved for release, ten facing (or having faced) trials, and 43 others awaiting reviews promised five years ago but not yet delivered. Three others had their ongoing imprisonment approved by the review boards, and another three are awaiting the results of theirs.

The release of these two Yemenis is progress, of course, and, as we heard last month, another 15 releases are expected in the near future. With the 14th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo taking place on Monday, this is a good time for President Obama to be making sure that men are being freed, to maintain the focus on his intention to close Guantánamo before he leaves office, and to neutralize the sting of critics pointing out that, on January 22, it will be seven years since he promised to close Guantánamo within a year.

The two Yemenis released — who were both born in Saudi Arabia, but to Yemeni parents — are men I identified in June 2012 in a major article about the failures to release prisoners approved for release, entitled, “Guantánamo Scandal: The 40 Prisoners Still Held But Cleared for Release At Least Five Years Ago.” The five years in the title, of course, is now eight and half years, and both of these men were first approved for release long before President Bush left office. They were then approved for release again under President Obama, following the deliberations of the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009. Read the rest of this entry »

Close Guantánamo Now: Andy Worthington’s US Tour on the 14th Anniversary of the Prison’s Opening, January 8-18, 2016

Andy Worthington calling for the closure of Guantanamo outside the White House on January 11, 2011. This year (2016) will be his sixth visit on the anniversary to call for the prison's closure as President Obama promised on his second day in office in January 2009.This Friday (January 8), I’m flying from London to Miami for a short US tour to coincide with the 14th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on January 11. I’ll be flying up to Washington, D.C. on the 10th, protesting outside the White House on the 11th, and moving on to New York City on the 13th, where I have an event lined up in Harlem on the 14th, and where I will be staying until the 18th.

I’m traveling as an expert on Guantánamo, with nearly ten years of experience as a researcher, writer, campaigner and public speaker about the prison and the men held there, the author of The Guantánamo Files, the co-director of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” and the co-founder and co-director of two campaigns: Close Guantanamo and We Stand With Shaker. I’m also hoping to return to the US later in the year with a new book, collection the nest of my writing about Guantánamo over the last eight years, and if you’re a publisher, or have funding ideas, or would like to stage an event for me as part of a tour when the book is published, then please get in touch.

Please also get in touch if you want to contact me on my forthcoming tour, either to interview me (for TV, radio or online) or to arrange a last-minute event. You can also contact Debra Sweet, the national director of the World Can’t Wait, who, as in previous years, is organizing my visit. And while I’m in New York, I’ll have a guitar, and will be delighted to play some of my political songs, including “Song for Shaker Aamer” and “81 Million Dollars,” about the US torture program, which I normally play with my band The Four Fathers. If any musician would like to play with me, do get in touch. Read the rest of this entry »

Former Guantánamo Prisoner Younous Chekkouri Illegally Imprisoned in Morocco; As Murat Kurnaz Calls for His Release, Please Ask John Kerry to Act

Guantanamo prisoner Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), repatriated to Morocco on September 16, 2015 but imprisoned ever since (Photo collage by Reprieve).

Please write to John Kerry!

Three and a half months ago, in September 2015, Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), a Moroccan national held at Guantánamo for nearly 14 years, was repatriated. As his lawyers, at the London-based legal charity Reprieve noted, he was “unanimously cleared for release by the six main US government security and intelligence agencies — including the CIA, FBI, and Departments of State and Defense” in 2009, and yet it took another six years to secure his release.

Significantly, his return to Morocco — where he had previously feared being repatriated because of human rights concerns — only took place because the US authorities were told that the Moroccan government accepted that there was no case against Younous.

However, on his return, as I noted at the time, he was imprisoned. I followed up on that story in October, in two articles, “Former Guantánamo Prisoner Betrayed by Morocco: Are Diplomatic Assurances Worthless?” and “Guantánamo’s Tainted Evidence: US Government Publicly Concedes Its Case Against Ex-Prisoner Facing Trial in Morocco Collapsed in 2011,” and again in November, when  his wife Abla wrote an article for Newsweek, in which she asked John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, to intervene. “Secretary Kerry, I am asking one thing of you,” she wrote. “Hold the Moroccan government to its promises. Please get them to release my husband from prison. After 14 years of injustice, I just want this nightmare to end. I just want Younous back by my side.” Read the rest of this entry »

Videos: Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers Play “Masters of War” and “81 Million Dollars”

Andy Worthington's band The Four Fathers play Brockley Christmas Market on December 12, 2015 (Photo: Ruth Gilburt).

Buy our album here!

Below are the last two videos from an event before Christmas at Deptford Cinema, a community cinema in south east London, when I talked about Guantánamo, and my band The Four Fathers played a set of political songs. I spoke about my ten years of research, writing and campaigning about Guantánamo, including the We Stand With Shaker campaign that I launched in November 2014 with the activist Joanne MacInnes to secure the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who was finally freed on October 30 after nearly 14 years in US custody.

Following my talk, The Four Fathers played eight songs — “Song for Shaker Aamer,”  the song I wrote that was featured in the campaign video for We Stand With Shaker, updated to reflect Shaker’s release, my roots reggae anthem “Fighting Injustice,” band member Richard Clare’s song “She’s Back” (about Pussy Riot), a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War,” and four other songs of mine, “Tory Bullshit Blues” and “81 Million Dollars,” about the US torture program ($81m being the amount that was paid, by the Bush administration, to two contractors, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who set up and ran the program), and the new songs “Riot” and “London.”

You can buy our album “Love and War” here, as an eight-track download, or on CD with two extra tracks (including “Masters of War”) — or you can buy tracks individually from just 60p ($0.93) each, although you’re welcome to pay more to support us. 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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