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.
This Sunday, July 3, President Obama will have just 200 days left of his presidency; 200 days, in other words, to fulfill the promise he made, on his second day in office, to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay. On January 22, 2009, he actually promised to close Guantánamo within a year, but although it is now nearly seven and a half years since that promise, it remains important for President Obama’s legacy that he does all he can to fulfill his promise before he leaves office.
To mark the occasion, we are asking those who want to see Guantánamo closed to print off a poster reminding President Obama that he has just 200 days left to close Guantánamo, take a photo of yourself with it, and send it to us, to put up on the website here, and also on social media (see our Facebook and Twitter pages), and we will be making sure that we tie in publicity to the values of the US, as celebrated on Independence Day the day after.
We began the Countdown to Close Guantánamo in January, when I appeared on Democracy Now! with music legend Roger Waters, and we have been counting down every 50 days, supporting President Obama, who has stepped up his efforts to close the prison this year, promising to release the men approved for release (29 of the 79 men still held) by the end of summer, and to complete reviews for all the other men, except the ten facing trials, before the end of the year. Read the rest of this entry »
Last Wednesday, Abd al-Malik Wahab al-Rahabi (aka Abdel Malik Wahab al-Rahabi), a Yemeni prisoner held at Guantánamo since the day the prison opened on January 11, 2002, became the 690th prisoner to be released, when he was given a new home in Montenegro. He was the second prisoner to be resettled in the Balkan nation, following another Yemeni in January.
Al-Rahabi is also the 10th prisoner to be freed after being approved for release by a Periodic Review Board, a review process set up in 2013 to review the cases of men described as “too dangerous to release” or recommended for prosecution by the previous review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009. 36 decisions have been taken to date, and two-thirds of those — 24 — have ended up with recommendations for release, a rather damning indictment of the task force’s extreme caution and/or mistaken analyses of the prisoners’ significance.
The task force described 48 men as “too dangerous to release,” despite conceding that there was insufficient evidence to put them on trial (which, in other words, was not evidence at all, but a collection of dubious statements made by the prisoners themselves), and the men recommended for prosecution has their proposed charges dropped after appeals court judges, embarrassingly, threw out some of the few convictions secured in Guantánamo’s permanently troubled military commission trial system, because the war crimes for which they had been convicted had been invented by Congress. Read the rest of this entry »
Three days into this disaster, and the fallout is so immense that it colours everything. Bereaved-looking people are everywhere, talking about their disbelief, unable to process it. I had a migraine on Friday, and I don’t normally even get headaches. Many people are reporting similar symptoms — of colossal stress, of an unprocessable shock. Every time we distract ourselves for a moment from the awful reality — that we’ve left the EU and that everything is now in freefall; not just our economy, but basically every certainty we had before Friday morning — we wake up again to the horror of it all, like having endless deja vu at a funeral without end, like being in a real-life version of a film in which aliens have taken over, even though they look just like us.
My funereal encounters are taking place in London, where a majority of those who could be bothered to vote — 60% — called for us to remain in the EU. I live in Lewisham, where the portion of Remain votes was even higher — 70% — so I can presume that I am not surrounded by the deluded, or by those with hideously misplaced anger, however justifiable that anger may be, although I accept that even that is difficult. I have been ambushed in recent weeks by the odd middle class, educated person my age (circa 50) supporting the Leave campaign, and I can’t help but be instinctively suspicious of older white people.
However, I also know it’s not just a white issue. About two years I was in a queue in a service station in Brixton, and I struck up a conversation with a black man about my age, who seemed to me to be a Windrush descendant. I started some small talk, leaning it leftwards as soon as I could, as is my wont, and thinking he would agree with me, until he started talking about how it was all the fault of the immigrants. Since that encounter and others, I have grown to be wary of casually chatting with my fellow citizens on the street. Read the rest of this entry »
What a disaster. In the UK referendum on EU membership, 17.4 million of my fellow citizens (52% of voters) voted to leave the EU, while 16.1 million (48%) voted to remain. Turnout was 71.8%, the highest turnout at a UK election since 1992, and by region the strongest support for the Remain camp was in Scotland, which voted 62% to 38% for Remain, London, which voted 60% to 40% for Remain, and Northern Ireland, which voted 56% to 44% to Remain.
In England as a whole, Leave secured 53.4% of the votes, compared to 46.6% for Remain, and in Wales Leave secured 52.5% of the vote, with Remain on 47.5%.
In London, breaking down the figures still further, 28 boroughs voted to remain, and just five voted to leave (Barking and Dagenham, Bexley, Sutton, Havering and Hillingdon), with 2,263,519 votes in favour of remaining in the EU, and 1,513,232 Londoners voting to leave. See the full London breakdown here.
In Lewisham, where I live, I’m glad to report that 86,995 people (70% of voters) voted for Remain, and just 37,518 voted for Leave, but these results, and similar results across London weren’t enough to prevent a victory for the Leave campaign. Read the rest of this entry »
I wrote the following article — as “Tortured Guantánamo Prisoner Mohammed Al-Qahtani Was Profoundly Mentally Ill Before His Capture” — 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, a Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo raised a number of uncomfortable questions for the US authorities: what do you do with a prisoner allegedly involved with Al-Qaeda, but who you have tortured? And what do you do if it then transpires that, before you captured and tortured this man, he already had a history of severe mental health problems?
The prisoner in question is Mohammed al-Qahtani, the 47th prisoner to face a PRB, since they were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release or facing trials. Tortured for 50 days straight at the end of 2002, he was “subjected to constant interrogations marked by extreme sleep deprivation, low temperatures, stress positions and forced nudity as well as being threatened with a military dog,” and “had to be hospitalized twice with a dangerously low heart rate,” as the Washington Post described it last week.
It was also in the Washington Post, in January 2009, that, for the first, and, to date, only time, a senior Pentagon official, Susan Crawford, the convenor of Guantánamo’s military commissions, admitted that a prisoner in US custody had been tortured. “We tortured Qahtani. His treatment met the legal definition of torture,” Crawford said, adding that that was why she didn’t refer his case for prosecution, even though he had been charged in February 2008 with five other men who are still facing prosecution for the 9/11 attacks. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, Haroon al-Afghani, who is around 35 years old and was one of the last prisoners to arrive at Guantánamo, in June 2007, became the 46th prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board. This latest of many review processes at Guantánamo began in November 2013 to provide reviews akin to parole boards for 71 men — 46 described as “too dangerous to release” by the previous review process, the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009, and 25 others recommended for prosecution by the task force, until the basis for prosecutions largely collapsed in 2012-13, after appeals court judges threw out a number of convictions on the basis that the war crimes for which the men had been sentenced were not legitimate war crimes, and had been invented by Congress.
By the time the PRBs began, seven men had been removed from consideration — five “forever prisoners” were freed in a prisoner exchange, and two men initially recommended for prosecutions agreed to plea deals in the military commissions. Of the 64 remaining prisoners eligible for PRBs, 35 decisions have so far been taken — and 24 of those decisions have been recommendations for release, demonstrating, if any proof were needed, that the task force’s assessments of the men back in 2010 were unacceptably exaggerated.
Al-Afghani was one of the men recommended for prosecution by the task force in 2010, but in truth there never seemed to have been a viable war crimes case against him. Although the Pentagon described him, when he arrived at Guantánamo, as a “dangerous terror suspect,” who was “known to be associated with high-level militants in Afghanistan,” and had apparently “admitted to serving as a courier for al-Qaeda Senior Leadership (AQSL),” it seemed more probable that he had been part of a militia that, although opposed to the US, was not something to genuinely consider in anything other than a military context. Read the rest of this entry »
I thought it was time to make my feelings clear about the EU referendum vote. I know the EU is a profoundly flawed entity, but as I’ve been saying since David Cameron, demonstrating supreme cowardice, agreed to a referendum to placate UKIP and far right critics in his own party, the only way leaving the EU would be acceptable would be if we immediately had a socialist revolution — and that’s not going to happen. Instead, as former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has explained, we must reform it from within.
A leave vote will be a vote for the terrible racism and intolerance that has been ramped up as a result of the referendum, but that has been cynically promoted by the media and politicians for far too long. A leave vote is not only an unwise leap into the dark economically, but will legitimise the leadership ambitions of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith and Nigel Farage — who are all disgraceful, self-seeking, deluded and/or sociopathic figures — and the racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia that they have been so shamefully promoting. In addition, please don’t think for a moment that I’m defending David Cameron and other ministers who are currently calling for us to remain in the EU, because they have criticised Europe relentlessly over the years, and have undertaken more than their fair share of immigrant-bashing and Islamophobia.
What depresses me profoundly is how, through self-delusion, as well as the encouragement of the media and politicians, far too many of my fellow citizens have concluded that immigration and the EU are the reasons they are feeling so put upon and isolated, when the truth is that everything they are complaining about is actually the fault of the bankers who caused the global crash in 2008, the politicians of all the main parties who have unquestioningly supported big business and the banks over the needs of the people, and the Tories (whether Leave or Remain supporters) who, since 2010, have presided over an “age of austerity” designed to cynically dismantle the British state in an unprecedented manner, which has involved punishing the poor, the unemployed and the disabled while further enriching those who are already well-off, and pandering relentlessly to the global super-rich. Read the rest of this entry »
Every year, I publish an article remembering the men who died at Guantánamo in what, in 2013, I first described as “the season of death” at the prison — the end of May and the start of June, when six men died: three on June 9, 2006, one on May 30, 2007, another on June 1, 2009, and the last on May 22, 2011.
Of the six, only the last death — of Hajji Nassim, an Afghan known in Guantánamo as Inayatullah — appears very clearly to have been a suicide. Nassim had profound mental health issues (as well as being a case of mistaken identity), but although there was no reason to suspect foul play, it is, as I explained last year, “disturbing and disgraceful that a profoundly troubled man, who was not who the authorities pretended he was, died instead of being released.”
Doubts have also been raised about the deaths in 2007 and 2009, as I also explained last year, when I wrote:
My very first articles, in May/June 2007, were written in response to the alleged death by suicide, on May 30, 2007, of a Saudi prisoner, Abdul Rahman al-Amri. Former prisoner Omar Deghayes later told me that al-Amri had been profoundly upset by the sexual harassment at Guantánamo — enough, perhaps, to lead him to take his own life — but Jeff Kaye (psychologist and journalist) later looked into the investigation into his death and found another murky story, as he did for Muhammad Salih (aka Mohammed al-Hanashi), another long-term hunger striker and agitator who died on June 1, 2009.
Last week, the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce the number of men held at Guantánamo, via Periodic Review Boards, continued with two more reviews. The PRBs were established in 2013 to review the cases of 41 men regarded as “too dangerous to release,” and 23 others recommended for prosecution, and were moving with glacial slowness until this year, when, realizing that time was running out, President Obama and his officials took steps to speed up the process.
35 cases have, to date, been decided by the PRBs, and in 24 of those cases, the board members have recommended the men for release, while upholding the detention of 11 others. This is a success rate for the prisoners of 69%, rather undermining the claims, made in 2010 by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, that the men described as “too dangerous to release” deserved that designation, even though the task force had conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put the men on trial.
In fact that description — “too dangerous to release” — has severely unravelled under the scrutiny of the PRBs, as 22 of those recommended for release had been placed in that category by the task force. The task force was rather more successful with its decisions regarding the alleged threat posed by those it thought should be prosecuted, as five of the eleven recommended of ongoing imprisonment had initially been recommended for prosecution by the task force. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, I was delighted to take part in an hour-long Guantánamo special on RT America, presented by Simone del Rosario, who had recently visited the prison. Simone began by noting that it was the tenth anniversary of three deaths at Guantánamo — 22-year old Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, a Saudi, who was just 17 years old when he was seized in Afghanistan at the end of 2001, 37-year old Salah Ahmed al-Salami (aka Ali al-Salami), a Yemeni, and 30-year old Mani Shaman al-Utaybi, another Saudi.
The deaths were described by the authorities as a triple suicide, but there have always been doubts about that being feasible — doubts that were particularly highlighted in 2010, when the law professor and journalist Scott Horton wrote an alternative account for Harper’s Magazine, “The Guantánamo Suicides,” that drew in particular on a compelling counter-narrative presented by Staff Sgt. Joseph Hickman, who had been in the prison at the time of the men’s deaths, monitoring activities from the guard towers. Hickman’s book Murder in Camp Delta was published in January 2015, and he was also a contributor to RT America’s show.
After this opening, the show dealt in detail with the case of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, Mauritanian national, torture victim and best-selling author (of Guantánamo Diary). Slahi is one of the prisoners still held who were designated for prosecution by the Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009, until the basis for prosecutions largely collapsed after a number of critical appeals court rulings and he was, instead, put forward for a Periodic Review Board, the latest review process, which began at the end of 2013. Slahi’s PRB took place on June 2, and, in discussing his case, Simone del Rosario also spoke to one of his attorneys, Nancy Hollander. Read the rest of this entry »
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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