Archive for July, 2016

Off to WOMAD for A Long Weekend of World Music, Back on Monday

A comparatively rare sunny interlude at the often rather wet WOMAD 2015 (Photo: Andy Worthington).My friends,

I’m off to WOMAD, the wonderful world music festival in Wiltshire, for the 15th year running, with a posse of good friends and their families. I’ll be back on Monday. My wife has been running children’s workshops since our kids were tiny toddlers, when WOMAD was still by the river in Reading, and now our kids are young men and the festival is happily settled into Charlton Park near Malmesbury, a wonderful site.

I never quite know who’s going to be on. One of the great joys of WOMAD is being surprised by wonderful musicians from all round the world — and, for me, especially, Africa — so I’ll report back later on my discoveries. I do know that Asian Dub Foundation are the welcoming band on the Friday night, and that George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic will be wowing us at some point.

I also hope that my band The Four Fathers (on Twitter here!) will be playing the Open Mic at Molly’s Bar at some point over the weekend, and I already know that my son Tyler (The Wiz-RD) will be beatboxing and providing some spoken word pieces at the Hip Yak Poetry Shack. Read the rest of this entry »

Ravil Mingazov, the Last Russian in Guantánamo, Is Approved for Release, While Afghan Who Arrived in 2007 Has Ongoing Detention Upheld

Russian prisoner Ravil Mingazov, an ethnic Tatar, photographed before his capture in Pakistan in March 2002 and his transfer to Guantanamo.So after last week’s news that torture victim and best-selling author Mohamedou Ould Slahi has been approved for release from Guantánamo by a Periodic Review Board, there has been more good news this week, as Ravil Mingazov, the last Russian in the prison, has also been approved for release (on July 21), bringing to 30 the number of men approved for release by the PRBs. Just 14 men have had their ongoing imprisonment upheld by the review boards, although one of those decisions also took place last week — for Haroon Gul, known to the US authorities as Haroon al-Afghani, who was one of the last prisoners to arrive at Guantánamo in 2007.

With these 44 results, the success rate for the prisoners is 68%, which is remarkable when you consider that the men in question were all described as “too dangerous to release” or were recommended for prosecution by the last review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, which reviewed all the prisoners’ cases in 2009. With such results, it would be impossible not to conclude that the task force overreacted massively in its recommendations, contained in its final report in January 2010.

With less than six months remaining of the Obama presidency, ten results are still awaited, and ten reviews are still to take place. For further information about the PRBs, see my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website. Read the rest of this entry »

Yemeni Seized in Georgia, Who Has Not Been Able to Make Contact With His Family in 13 Years at Guantánamo, Seeks Release Via Review Board

Yemeni prisoner Omar al-Rammah, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Last Thursday, July 21, a Yemeni prisoner at Guantánamo, Omar Muhammad Ali al-Rammah (ISN 1017), became the 54th prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board. The PRBs were set up in 2003 to review the cases of prisoners who had not already been approved for release, or were not facing trials, and to date 30 men have been approved for release, while 14 have had their ongoing imprisonment upheld. For further information, see my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website.

This is a 68% success rate for the prisoners, and, as I explained in an article last week, these results are “remarkable — and remarkably damaging for the credibility of the Obama administration — because the majority of these men were described, by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama set up shortly after taking office in January 2009, as ‘too dangerous to release,’ when the reality has not borne out that caution.” I added, “Others were recommended for prosecution, until the basis for prosecutions in Guantánamo’s military commission trial system largely collapsed after a series of devastating appeals court rulings, confirming that the war crimes being tried were illegitimate, having been invented by Congress.”

Al-Rammah (also identified as Zakaria al-Baidany), who is 40 years old, was, as I explained in my book The Guantánamo Files, captured far from the battlefields of Afghanistan — in Georgia, formerly part of the Soviet Union, with an Algerian, Soufian al-Hawari (ISN 1016), who was freed in November 2008. Al-Hawari explained in Guantánamo that he was formerly a drug user and petty thief in various European countries, but that he then became a devout Muslim, and traveled in 2001 to meet an old friend from Algeria called Abdul Haq in Georgia, where, as I described it, he said he “was captured on a bridge 50 miles from his friend’s house under the most extraordinary circumstances.” Read the rest of this entry »

Finally! Torture Victim and Best-Selling Author Mohamedou Ould Slahi Approved for Release from Guantánamo

Mauritanian prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi, photographed before he was handed over to US authorities in Mauritania, and sent for torture in Jordan and Guantanamo, where he is still held. On July 14, 2016, a Periodic Review Board approved him for release.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.

Great news from Guantánamo, as the torture victim and best-selling author Mohamedou Ould Slahi has been approved for release by a Periodic Review Board, as has an Afghan prisoner, Abdul Zahir, who was charged in the first version of Guantánamo’s military commissions in January 2006 — although those charges were then dropped and never revived. The PRBs were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release or facing trials, and, with these two decisions, 29 men have been approved for release and 13 for ongoing imprisonment, a success rate of 69%. See our definitive Periodic Review Board list here.

This is remarkable — and an indictment of the Obama administration’s caution — when it is recognized that, back in 2009, when President Obama set up a high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force to assess these men’s cases, these 42 men and 22 others either awaiting reviews or awaiting the results of reviews, were described as “too dangerous to release,” although the task force acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, or were put forward for prosecution, until the basis for prosecutions largely collapsed under judicial scrutiny in 2012-13.

Slahi (ISN 760), a 45-year old Mauritanian, was one of those initially — and incomprehensibly — recommended for prosecution by the task force. As I explained at the time of his PRB on June 2, he “was subjected to a specially tailored torture program in Guantánamo, approved by Bush’s defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and, though still imprisoned, is a best-selling author. While imprisoned, he wrote a memoir that, after a long struggle with the US government, was published in redacted form. Nevertheless, the power of Slahi’s account of his life, his rendition, his torture and his long years in Guantánamo, is such that the book, Guantánamo Diary, has become a best-seller.” Read the rest of this entry »

Libyan Who Abandoned Habeas Corpus Petition, Citing Its “Futility,” Asks Review Board to Approve His Release from Guantánamo

Libyan prisoner Ismail Ali Faraj al-Bakush, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Last week, a Libyan prisoner at Guantánamo, Ismail Ali Faraj al-Bakush (aka Ismael al-Bakush), who is 48 years old, became the 53rd prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board. The PRBs were set up in 2003 to review the cases of prisoners who had not already been approved for release, or were not facing trials, and to date 29 men have been approved for release, while 13 have had their ongoing imprisonment upheld.

This is a 69% success rate for the prisoners, which is remarkable — and remarkably damaging for the credibility of the Obama administration — because the majority of these men were described, by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama set up shortly after taking office in January 2009, as “too dangerous to release,” when the reality has not borne out that caution. Others were recommended for prosecution, until the basis for prosecutions in Guantánamo’s military commission trial system largely collapsed after a series of devastating appeals court rulings, confirming that the war crimes being tried were illegitimate, having been invented by Congress.

Ismail al-Bakush is one of 41 men eligible for the PRBs who was initially regarded as “too dangerous to release,” even though the task force acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed against any of these men to put them on trial. 23 others were initially recommended for prosecution, and just eleven men are still awaiting reviews, while 12 others (including al-Bakush) are awaiting the results of their reviews. See my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website for further information. Read the rest of this entry »

Penitent Pakistani Seeks Release from Guantánamo, as Two Yemenis and a Moroccan are Approved for Release and an Algerian’s Request is Denied

Pakistani prisoner Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.On July 7, a Periodic Review Board took place for Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani (also identified for the PRB as Abdul Rabbani Abu Rahmah), a Pakistani prisoner at Guantánamo (born in Saudi Arabia) who was seized in Karachi, Pakistan on September 9, 2002 and held and tortured in CIA “black sites” for two years, before arriving at Guantánamo with nine other allegedly “medium-value detainees” in September 2004. He was seized with his younger brother, Ahmad (aka Mohammed), who is awaiting a date for his PRB, and who, last year, sought assistance from the Pakistani government in a submission to the Pakistani courts.

The PRBs were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the men not already approved for release or facing trials. These men were described by the government task force that reviewed their cases in 2009 as “too dangerous to release,” despite a lack of evidence against them, or were recommended for prosecution, until the basis for prosecution largely collapsed. The PRBs have been functioning like parole boards, with the men in question — 64 in total — having to establish, to the satisfaction of the board members, made up 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, that they show remorse for their previous actions, that they bear no ill-will towards the US, that they have no associations with anyone regarded as being involved in terrorism, and that they have plans in place for their life after Guantánamo, preferably with the support of family members.

Around the time of Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani’s PRB, which is discussed at length below, four decisions were also taken relating to prisoners whose reviews had already taken place, when three men were approved for release, and one had his request to be released turned down. These decisions meant that, of the 52 prisoners whose cases had been reviewed, 27 have been approved for release, 13 have had their ongoing imprisonment recommended, and 12 decisions have yet to be made. 11 more reviews have yet to take place (and one took place last week, which I’ll be writing about soon). See here for my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the website of the Close Guantánamo campaign that I co-founded with the US attorney Tom Wilner, and that I have been running since 2012. Read the rest of this entry »

As Theresa May Becomes Prime Minister, A Look Back at Her Authoritarianism, Islamophobia and Harshness on Immigration

Theresa May, Britain's new Prime Minister, making her first speech as PM. I slightly edited the banner behind her.First off, it says little for democracy that, after the biggest constitutional crisis in most of our lifetimes (the result of the EU referendum, which may take years to resolve), the Conservative Party has responded by having just 199 MPs anoint a new leader to run the country after David Cameron, aging 20 years overnight, bumbled off into the sunset of a poisoned legacy.

Cameron, it is assumed, will forever be known as the worst Prime Minister since Neville Chamberlain (or Anthony Eden), a so-called leader who, because he was too cowardly to face down critics who were even more right-wing than him — in his own party, and in UKIP — called a referendum that he was then too arrogant to believe he could lose. I was fearful at the time Cameron announced the referendum, in January 2013, that it could all go horribly wrong, and on the morning of June 24 my fears were confirmed as 17 million voters — a weird mix of political vandals, racists, xenophobes, left-wing idealists and the ill-informed — voted for us to leave the EU.

Cameron left his mess for others to clear up, and within days most of those who had run with his idiocy and had campaigned to get us out of Europe fell too. Nigel Farage announced that he was standing down as UKIP leader, hopefully doing us all a favour by, as a result, diminishing UKIP’s weird reptilian personality cult. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo and Brexit on Portland’s KBOO FM with Linda Olson-Osterlund

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).Last Friday I was delighted to take part in an hour-long show on KBOO FM, a community radio station in Portland, Oregon, to discuss the ongoing situation regarding the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and also to discuss Britain’s proposed departure from the European Union after the referendum on June 23.

The MP3 for the show is here, and I hope you have time to listen to it, and to share it if you find it useful.

The show — Positively Revolting — was hosted by Linda Olson-Osterlund, who has long taken an interest in Guantánamo, and has been interviewing me on a regular basis since 2008 (see here for shows from the last three years).

Linda began by mentioning the two police murders last week (of Alton Sterling and Philander Castile), and the killing of police officers in Dallas, and we then moved on to discuss the situation at Guantánamo with less than 200 days left of the Obama presidency, and she directed listeners to the website of the Close Guantánamo campaign, which I established in January 2010 with the lawyer Tom Wilner, who represented the Guantánamo prisoners in their Supreme Court cases in 2004 and 2008. Read the rest of this entry »

76 Men Left in Guantánamo, as Yemeni Starts New Life in Italy, and Another Yemeni and the Last Tajik Go to Serbia

Tajik prisoner Muhammad Davliatov (aka Umar Abdulayev) in a photo from 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.

On July 10, the Pentagon announced that Fayiz Ahmad Yahia Suleiman (ISN 153), a 41-year old Yemeni who arrived at the prison in its first week of operations, on January 17, 2002 and was approved for release from Guantánamo six and a half years ago, had finally been freed, and given a new home in Italy. Two prisoners, both Tunisians, were previously transferred to Italy, in 2009, where they were briefly imprisoned before returning to Tunisia during the optimistic early days of the Arab Spring.

Suleiman — who, it should be stressed, will be a free man in Italy — was approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009, and that issued its final report in January 2010. He is the last Yemeni out of 126 men approved for release by the task force to be freed.

In addition, eleven Yemenis are left out of 30 approved for release by the task force but then placed in a sub-category of “conditional detention” — conditional on a perceived improvement in the security situation in Yemen. No indication was given as to how this would be decided, but what happened instead was that the entire US establishment agreed not to repatriate any Yemenis, and so the “conditional detention” group languished until the Obama administration began finding countries that would offer new homes to them, a process that only began last November and that, with Suleiman’s release, has led to 19 men being given new homes — in the UAE, Ghana, Oman, Montenegro and Saudi Arabia. Read the rest of this entry »

1,000+ Lawyers Tell Parliament that UK Cannot Leave EU Without MPs’ Consent

Leaders not liars: a poster on the March for Europe in London on July 2, 2016 (Photo: Andy Worthington).“Brexit means Brexit, and we’re going to make a success of it,” said Theresa May, as she became the leader of the Conservative Party and the next Prime Minister, following Andrea Leadsom’s withdrawal from the Tory leadership contest.

This is bad news for those of us who fear Theresa May’s authoritarianism, and, I must say, what seems to be her Islamophobia, but for now I want to focus not on her beliefs in detail but on her Brexit statement, as the fallout from the EU referendum 18 days ago is still the most important story in the UK, despite the mainstream media’s constant efforts not to acknowledge it as such.

May’s repeated message about Brexit is at odds with a letter delivered on Saturday to the outgoing Prime Minster David Cameron, the architect of our Brexit fiasco — just the day before he was booed at Wimbledon — signed by 1,054 lawyers, who point out that the EU referendum result is not legally binding, because it was only advisory. As they state, “The referendum did not set a threshold necessary to leave the EU, commonly adopted in polls of national importance, e.g. 60% of those voting or 40% of the electorate.” 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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