Archive for March, 2016

Breach Theatre On Tour With Acclaimed Theatre/Video Dramatization of the Battle of the Beanfield

Breach Theatre recreate the Battle of the Beanfield in Wiltshire in March 2015 (Photo: Andy Worthington).It’s over 30 years since the Battle of the Beanfield, a notoriously dark day in modern British history, when, under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher, 1,400 police from six counties and the Ministry of Defence “decommissioned” a convoy of around 500 new age travellers, free festival goers and environmental activists who were attempting to travel to Stonehenge to set up what would have been the 12th annual free festival in the fields opposite the stones.

The Stonehenge Free Festival was a wild anarchic jamboree, which lasted for the whole of the month of June, and, in its last few years, attracted many tens of thousands of people, myself included — and the effect on me was so profound that I ended up writing about the festival and the Beanfield (and much more besides) in my 2004 counter-cultural history, Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion and then focused exclusively on the Beanfield in my 2005 book, The Battle of the Beanfield.

The festival’s violent suppression, in a one-sided rout of heartbreaking brutality, was one of the grimmer episodes in Thatcher’s bleak, eleven-year reign, dealing a crippling blow to Britain’s traveller movement, even though dissent refused to go away, as an ecstasy-fuelled rave scene, the road protest movement and the anti-globalization movement emerged to challenge the status quo in the late 80s and the 90s. Read the rest of this entry »

The American Lawyer’s Six Guantánamo Bar Profiles: Thomas Wilner, David Remes, Jennifer Cowan, Wells Dixon, David Nevin and Lee Wolosky

Thomas Wilner of Shearman & Sterling (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi).

The November 2015 issue of The American Lawyer featured a “Special Report: The Guantánamo Bar,” consisting of six interviews with attorneys who have worked on Guantánamo. I’m cross-posting them below, as I think they will be of interest, and I also estimate that many of you will not have come across them previously.

The six lawyers featured were: Thomas Wilner of Shearman & Sterling; David Remes, formerly of Covington & Burling; Jennifer Cowan of Debevoise & Plimpton; J. Wells Dixon of the Center for Constitutional Rights; Public Defender David Nevin; and Lee Wolosky of Boies, Schiller & Flexner. Wolosky was appointed last June as the White House’s special envoy for Guantánamo closure, while the rest have represented prisoners held at Guantánamo.

Thomas Wilner represented a number of Kuwaiti prisoners, and also represented the prisoners in their habeas corpus cases before the Supreme Court in 2004 and 2008. He is co-founder, with me, of the Close Guantánamo campaign, launched in January 2012, through which, for the last four years, we have been attempting to educate people about why Guantánamo must be closed, and who is held there, and I’m pleased to note that The American Lawyer described him as “the most vocal proponent in the Guantánamo bar for the closure of the offshore prison.” Read the rest of this entry »

In the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, Photos Remind President Obama He Has Just 300 Days Left

Steve Lane, from Bethesda, Maryland, supports the Countdown to Close Guantanamo.

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the 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.

As an additional point of interest, this is my 2600th post since I began writing articles about Guantánamo on a full-time basis in May 2007. If you wish to make a donation to support my work, most of which is reader-funded, then please feel free to do so — I am still hoping to raise $1100 of my $3500 target for the next three months. Click on the ‘Donate’ button below to make a donation via PayPal.

Yesterday, March 25, marked 300 days until the end of Barack Obama’s Presidency, and, to mark the occasion, celebrities and concerned citizens across the US and around the world have been taking photos of themselves with posters, as part of the Countdown to Close Guantánamo campaign, reminding President Obama that he has just 300 days left to close the prison, as he promised to do on his second day in office back in January 2009. The poster is here, and you can send it to us here.

The actors David Morrissey and Juliet Stevenson, and the lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of Reprieve, which represents men still held at Guantánamo, are supporting the campaign, along with around 80 other people from the US and elsewhere, who, to date, have sent in photos of themselves with posters reminding the president that he has just 300 days left, to add to the 180 photos sent in when the campaign was launched in January, and marking 350 days last month. All the photos are available on the website here and here, and some are also on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

The Countdown to Close Guantánamo is an initiative of the Close Guantánamo campaign, which I founded in January 2012 (as a journalist, activist and Guantánamo expert) with the attorney Tom Wilner, who represented the Guantánamo prisoners in their habeas corpus cases before the Supreme Court in 2004 and 2008. I launched the Countdown to Close Guantánamo in January this year with music legend Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd) on Democracy Now! Read the rest of this entry »

Please Ask Your MPs to Support Caroline Lucas’s Early Day Motion Calling for the Closure of Guantánamo

Caroline Lucas MP (Green, Brighton Pavilion) supporting the We Stand With Shaker campaign in February 2015, with a poster for Valentine's Day declaring, "There is no love in Guantanamo." In March 2016, Caroline launched a new Early Day Motion calling for the closure of Guantanamo.

Contact your MP here.

Last week, Britain’s Green MP, Caroline Lucas, with the support of five other MPs, tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM 1260), entitled, ‘The Closure of Guantánamo Bay,’ which states, “That this House welcomes President Obama’s latest plan to fulfil his pledge to close Guantánamo Bay by the end of his Presidency; notes that this is President Obama’s last year in office and that his first executive order in January 2009 was to close Guantánamo; further notes that a recent US Senate report recognised the systematic use of torture in Guantánamo; believes that Guantánamo is now synonymous with torture, rendition and indefinite detention, rendering it a symbol of human rights abuses; further welcomes the release and return to the UK of British resident Shaker Aamer from nearly 14 years imprisonment in Guantánamo without charge or trial, but notes that 91 prisoners remain in Guantánamo; notes that many of these have been cleared for release without charge or trial so should be released without delay; further believes that the remaining detainees should have their full human rights restored and should either be released to countries that will respect their human rights or be given a fair trial; and urges the Government to support President Obama’s effort to close Guantánamo Bay but oppose any moves simply to relocate detainees from Guantánamo to another detention facility in the US.”

This is a comprehensive synopsis of the situation at Guantánamo with just 300 days left of the Obama Presidency, as currently highlighted by the Countdown to Close Guantánamo that I launched in January with music legend Roger Waters — mentioning the 91 men still held, even though 36 of them have been approved for release, the Senate Torture Report, and of course the release of Shaker Aamer.

Caroline has persistently opposed the existence of Guantánamo, tabling Early Day Motions calling for the prison’s closure in 2010 and 2011 (EDM 1093 and EDM 2558), and she was also one of the founding members of the All-Party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group set up by John McDonnell MP (Labour, Hayes and Harlington) in November 2014, which played a major role in securing the release of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo last October. Read the rest of this entry »

29th Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo – for Sharqawi Ali Al-Hajj, Alleged Al-Qaeda Facilitator

Yemeni prisoner Sharqawi Abdu Ali al-Hajj, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.

Last week, Sharqawi Abdu Ali Al-Hajj (aka Abdu Ali Sharqawi), a 41-year old Yemeni, became the 29th Guantánamo prisoner to have his case considered by a Periodic Review Board, the review process that, since 2013, has been reviewing the cases of all the prisoners not facing trials (just ten men) and those not already approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009.

Of the 91 men currently held, 24 were approved for release by the task force but are still held, while 12 others have been approved for release by Periodic Review Boards. Discounting the ten facing trials, that leaves 45 men awaiting PRBs, or the results of PRBs, which, it seems certain, will add to the number of men approved for release.

23 men have so far had decisions taken on their PRBs, and in 19 of those cases the review boards have recommended them for release, a success rate of 83%. What ought to make this shameful for the administration is that the men facing PRBs were described by the task force as “too dangerous to release” six years ago, but those claims have unravelled under further scrutiny. At the time, the task force accepted that it was holding men who couldn’t be put on trial, because the information used to defend their detention wouldn’t stand up in a court, but refused to acknowledge that this meant that it was fundamentally unreliable. The task force also regarded men as dangerous based on their resistance in Guantánamo, but the PRBs are now functioning more like a parole process, and allowing prisoners the opportunity to demonstrate why they do not pose a threat, and will not pose a threat  in the future. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos from the ‘Refugees Welcome’ Rally in Trafalgar Square, Mar. 19, 2016

"Donald Trump: World's Biggest Racist": a placard at the "Refugees Welcome" demonstration in London on March 19, 2016 (Photo: Andy Worthington).See my photos on Flickr here!

On March 19, 2016, the organisation Stand Up to Racism held a national demonstration, ‘Refugees Welcome’, to send out a hugely important message to the British government and to other EU governments that refugees are welcome in the UK and across Europe. I wasn’t able to make it to the march, which began at Portland Place, although I was determined to show my face, and made it to Trafalgar Square for the rally, where I took the photo set that I’ve just published on Flickr.

I understand that there were around 15,000 people on the march, which is commendable, of course, but I must mention, as I now do every time I discuss protests, that people opposed to the cruelty and indifference of the Tory government need to get out on the streets and make some noise to show their opposition, as there is no indication that sitting back and waiting until the next General Election in 2020 is a plausible course of action to take on a government that is in power despite securing just 24.9% of registered voters, who are also intent on redrawing electoral boundaries to keep them in power forever.

The timing for the demonstration could hardly have been more fortuitous, as the EU has just reached an agreement with Turkey, described by the Guardian as follows: “Refugees and migrants arriving in Europe will be sent back across the Aegean sea under the terms of a deal between the EU and Turkey that has been criticised by aid agencies as inhumane.” Read the rest of this entry »

Save the NHS from the Tory Butchers: How Doctors Saved Me and My Family, and How People Forget That Insurers Don’t Cover Pre-Existing Conditions

Andy Worthington in St. Thomas's Hospital, March 23, 2011 (Photo: Dot Young).Please support my work!

Exactly five years ago, I was hospitalised — with what turned out to be a blood disease that, manifesting itself via a blood clot, had cut off the blood supply to two of my toes to such an extent that they had turned black, and it was debatable whether they could be saved.

I had first started feeling significant pain in my right foot in the New Year, but had tried to ignore it, both on my US trip in January, to call for the closure of Guantánamo, and on a visit to Poland, at the start of February, on a short tour of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” the documentary film I co-directed with filmmaker Polly Nash. By the middle of February, however, the pain was so severe that, for a month, I barely slept. Every time I fell asleep, I awoke in blinding agony within just a few minutes. All day and all night, every day and night, this sleep deprivation — ironic for a campaigner against torture, including sleep deprivation — continued without any relief.

I couldn’t get doctors to give me the pain relief I needed, and it took a month until consultants in south east London, where I live, accepted that my situation was so bad that I had to be brought into hospital, to finally be given the morphine that I had needed all along. However, it soon became clear that the hospital I was at had no real plan for what to do with me, so my wife, fortunately, and with my eternal gratitude, pushed for me to be moved to St. Thomas’s, opposite the Houses of Parliament (another irony, surely), where I stayed for a week and half, where some excellent doctors found medication that saved my toes, and where the staff allowed me, like some sort of quietly doped-up maniac, to find the one corner of the ward where I could get wi-fi reception, so that, ridiculously, I could continue working. Read the rest of this entry »

Saifullah Paracha, Pakistani Businessman and “Very Compliant” Prisoner, Faces Guantánamo Review Board

A photo of Guantanamo prisoner Saifullah Paracha, taken by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and made available to his family.I wrote the following article — as “Guantánamo Review Board for Saifullah Paracha, Pakistani Businessman and ‘Very Compliant’ Prisoner, Kidnapped in Thailand in 2003” — for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the 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 week Saifullah Paracha, a Pakistani businessman, and, at 68 years of age, Guantánamo’s oldest current prisoner, became the 28th Guantánamo prisoner to have his potential release considered by a Periodic Review Board (see our full list here). This review process was set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not facing trials (just ten men) or already approved for release by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2010, when almost two-thirds of the remaining prisoners — 156 out of 240 — were recommended for release, or, to use the task force’s careful wording, were “approved for transfer subject to appropriate security measures.”

Of the 28, five decisions have yet to be made, but of the 23 others the success rate for these men securing approval for their release is extremely high — 83% — with 19 men having their release recommended. What makes these decisions particularly important is that they puncture the rhetoric that has surrounded these men — both under George W. Bush, with the glib dismissal of everyone at Guantánamo as “the worst of the worst,” and under Barack Obama, with his task force’s conclusion (more worrying because of its veneer of authority) that 48 of those eligible for PRBs were “too dangerous to release,” even though it was also acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial; in other words, that it was not reliable evidence at all.

In attempting to justify its decisions, the task force noted that its members had relied on “the totality of available information — including credible information that might not be admissible in a criminal prosecution — [which] indicated that the detainee poses a high level of threat that cannot be mitigated sufficiently except through continued detention.” Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: The Kill the Housing Bill March, Seeking Housing Justice, London, Mar. 13, 2016

Kill the Housing Bill: a poster by Big Ben during the march against the Tories' wretched new Housing Bill on March 13, 2016 (Photo: Andy Worthington).See my photos on Flickr here!

On Sunday March 13, 2016, housing campaigners held a national demonstration against the Tory government’s latest Housing Bill, a disgraceful piece of legislation that introduces what the government has cynically described as “pay to stay,” whereby families in council housing, on median incomes (£30,000 nationally, £40,000 in London) will be made to pay market rents, doubling, tripling or even quadrupling what they pay. The move will affect tens of thousands of families, with research indicating that 60,000 families will be unable to afford to live in their homes anymore, while those that are able to do so will be financially crippled by a government that, disgracefully, claims to represent hard-working families, but is actually doing the opposite.

As the Kill the Housing Bill campaign notes, the bill also “forces local authorities to sell ‘high value’ properties on the private market when they become empty – the biggest council housing sell-off in generations,” “abolishes new secure lifetime tenancies in council housing, replacing them with 2-5 year tenancies,” and “[d]oes nothing to address the housing crisis, and instead replaces obligations to build social housing with Cameron’s unaffordable ‘starter homes’ — requiring an annual income of £70,000 in London.”

For a more detailed analysis of the UK’s housing crisis — and the crisis in London, where the greed is particularly focused — see my article written before the march, Call for an End to Housing Greed: Come to the National Demonstration Against the Housing Bill in London, Sun. Mar. 13. I’ll also be writing more on the subject very soon. Read the rest of this entry »

Yemeni Is 27th Guantánamo Prisoner to Face Periodic Review Board; 4th Man Has Detention Upheld, 36 Others Await Reviews

Guantanamo prisoner Zohair al-Shorabi (aka Suhayl al-Sharabi) in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011. Al-Shorabi's Periodic Review Board was on March 1, 2016.

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In the long-running saga of ascertaining who is held at Guantánamo, and what should happen to them, the Bush administration’s refusal to recognize domestically and internationally accepted norms governing the treatment of prisoners continues to cast a long and baleful shadow over proceedings.

In the summer of 2004, in a rebuke to the Supreme Court, which granted the prisoners habeas corpus rights in a ruling in June of that year (in Rasul v. Bush), the Bush administration instigated Combatant Status Review Tribunals, intended, for the most part, to rubber-stamp the prisoners’ prior designation as “unlawful enemy combatants,” who could be held without any rights whatsoever. These were followed by Administrative Review Boards, with much the same function.

When he took office in 2009, President Obama set up a high-level, inter-agency review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, as a result of which 48 men were recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial.

In March 2011, President Obama issued an executive order authorizing these men’s ongoing imprisonment, but promising them further reviews to be completed within a year. Shamefully, these did not begin until November 2013, but since then the reviews — the Periodic Review Boards — have been reviewing these men’s cases, and have also begun to review the cases of 25 other men initially recommended for prosecution by the task force, until the basis for prosecution spectacularly collapsed under scrutiny in the appeals court in Washington, D.C. 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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