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 November 30, President Obama will have just 50 days left to close the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, which he inherited from George W. Bush, but which has been open under his watch for longer than under his predecessor.
To mark the occasion — and spurred on by the threat posed by the president-elect, Donald Trump, who promised on the campaign trail to keep Guantánamo open — we’re urging you to please print off a poster, take a photo with it, and send it to us — with a message to President Obama, if you wish (and to president-elect Trump as well, if you like).
You can also let us know where you are if you’d like to help us show how opposition to the existence of Guantánamo — which is a legal, moral and ethical abomination, and should never have opened — comes from across the US and around the world. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, I took part in a fascinating event, the Brockley Festival of Ideas for Change, just a few minutes’ walk from my home in south east London, which was organised by two local organisations, the Brockley Society and the St. John’s Society. This was the talk I gave, which I wrote in a 90-minute burst of concentrated creative energy just beforehand. It distils my feelings about the current rise of racism and xenophobia in the UK, the narrow victory for leaving the EU in the referendum in June, and the terrible indifference to the current refugee crisis, which is taking place on a scale that is unprecedented in most of our lives, and I examine the dangers posed by an “us” and “them” mentality, laying the blame on cynical politicians and our largely corrupt corporate media, whilst also asking how and why, on an individual basis, people are becoming more and more insular, and what, if anything, can be done to counter these dangerous trends.
I was asked to join this event today because I’ve spent the last ten years — nearly eleven now — researching and writing about the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, telling the stories of the men held there and working to get the prison shut down, because it is, to be frank, a legal, moral and ethical abomination that should ever have existed.
Discussing Guantánamo here today wasn’t of particular relevance to most of the problems facing people in Britain right now, as the last British resident in Guantánamo — a rather lovely man named Shaker Aamer — was released over a year ago. I could have talked about Britain’s complicity in the existence of Guantánamo, and how we replicated part of its lawlessness here in the UK, holding foreign nationals without charge or trial, on the basis of secret evidence, and subjecting British nationals to a form of house arrest and/or internal exile, but I thought it would be useful to look at a key aspect of Guantánamo that has relevance to so many of the things happening in Britain today that are so deeply troubling to so many of us; namely, the rise of racism.
It doesn’t take a genius to look at Guantánamo and to realise that everyone held there since the prison opened in January 2002 is a Muslim. And because of all the disgraceful rhetoric about terrorists and the “worst of the worst,” Americans have been encouraged to accept that. But imagine if there was a prison run by the United States where people were held without charge or trial, and subjected to torture, and everyone held there was a Christian, or Jewish. There would be an unprecedented uproar. Read the rest of this entry »
In August, a long-suffering Afghan prisoner at Guantánamo, Obaidullah, was finally released after 14 years of imprisonment without charge or trial, sent to the United Arab Emirates rather than to his home village, because the US Congress had, with a rather hysterical disregard for any sense of proportion, passed a law preventing any Afghan prisoner at Guantánamo from being repatriated. Below I’m cross-posting a moving account of Obaidullah himself, and of his wrongful imprisonment, by one of his attorneys, Anne Richardson. Other civilian lawyers who worked on his case include Dan Stormer and Cindy Pánuco of Hadsell Stormer & Renick LLP in Pasadena, CA, where Richardson worked before moving to Public Counsel, the US’s largest pro bono firm, where she is the directing attorney of the Consumer Law Project.
Obaidullah, who has just one name like many Afghans, was seized in July 2002, when he was around 22 years old (he doesn’t know his exact year of birth), and was accused of having “stored and concealed anti-tank mines, other explosive devices, and related equipment,” and it was also claimed that he “concealed on his person a notebook describing how to wire and detonate explosive devices”; and that he “knew or intended” that his “material support and resources were to be used in preparation for and in carrying out a terrorist attack.”
The charges were listed when he was, absurdly, put forward for a trial by military commission in September 2008. Even if the allegations were true, putting forward a minor insurgent for a war crimes trial was a disgracefully overblown response to his alleged activities, but as an investigation by his military lawyers found in 2011, it appears that the US authorities were mistaken about Obaidullah’s role in any kind of plot against US forces. His wife had just given birth, and blood found in his car, interpreted as being a sign that someone was wounded in an attack, seems to have been from his wife’s labor, which he failed to mention because speaking about such things is not something an Afghan man does. Read the rest of this entry »
A recent detailed New York Times article, “Where Even Nightmares Are Classified: Psychiatric Care at Guantánamo,” provides a powerful review of the horrors of Guantánamo from the perspective of “more than two dozen military medical personnel who served or consulted” at the prison.
The Times article, written by Sheri Fink, explains how some prisoners were disturbed when they arrived at the prison, others “struggled with despair” as their imprisonment without charge or trial dragged on, and some “had developed symptoms including hallucinations, nightmares, anxiety or depression after undergoing brutal interrogations” by US personnel — sometime in CIA “black sites,” sometimes at Guantánamo — who had themselves been advised by other health personnel. Those who were tortured — although the Times refused to mention the word “torture,” as has been the paper’s wont over the years, coyly referring to dozens of men who “underwent agonizing treatment” — “were left with psychological problems that persisted for years, despite government lawyers’ assurances that the practices did not constitute torture and would cause no lasting harm.”
The result, Fink concluded, was that “a willful blindness to the consequences emerged. Those equipped to diagnose, document and treat the effects — psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health teams — were often unaware of what had happened.” Doctors told the Times that, “[s]ometimes by instruction and sometimes by choice, they typically did not ask what the prisoners had experienced in interrogations,” a situation that seriously compromised their care. Read the rest of this entry »
The NHS faces an unprecedented crisis, and it’s all the Tories’ fault (with the help of some senior NHS officials). A new report by the National Audit Office, the government’s official auditor, has found that “[t]wo-thirds of health trusts in England are now in deficit,” and “their total debt has almost trebled since 2015 to £2.45bn,” as the Guardian described it, adding that auditors “were particularly alarmed by the decision to transfer £950m [out of a total of £4.6bn] from the NHS’s budget for buildings and IT to pay staff’s wages.”
The report follows the revelation on Monday that, as the Guardian described it, “[c]ontroversial plans put forward as a way of improving the health service in England and ensuring its sustainability risk being used as a cover for cuts and running down the NHS,” as Dr. Mark Porter, the chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) council explained. The Guardian added that the BMA stated that the 44 regional Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) put forward in September “amount to £22bn in cuts by 2020-21 to balance the books, which will have a severe impact on patient care” — an understatement if ever I heard one. The impact, if implemented, would be nothing short of disastrous.
Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, stated that its report found that the NHS’s “financial problems are endemic,” and that this situation “is not sustainable” for a functioning health service. Her analysis of the crisis also included a recognition that “an increasing number of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs)” — the groups set up under the Tories’ complete (and manifesto promise-breaking) overhaul of the NHS — were “unable to keep their spending within budget.” Read the rest of this entry »
I wrote the following article (as “Donald Trump and Guantánamo: What Do We Need to Know?) 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.
So the bad news, on Guantánamo, torture, Islamophobia and war, is that, as Charlie Savage explained in the New York Times this week, “As a presidential candidate, Donald J. Trump vowed to refill the cells of the Guantánamo Bay prison and said American terrorism suspects should be sent there for military prosecution. He called for targeting mosques for surveillance, escalating airstrikes aimed at terrorists and taking out their civilian family members, and bringing back waterboarding and a ‘hell of a lot worse’ — not only because ‘torture works,’ but because even ‘if it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway.’”
As Savage also noted, “It is hard to know how much of this stark vision for throwing off constraints on the exercise of national security power was merely tough campaign talk,” but it is a disturbing position for Americans — and the rest of the world — to be in, particularly with respect to the noticeable differences between Trump and Barack Obama.
The outgoing president has some significant failures against his name, which will be discussed in detail below, but America’s first black president did not, of course, appoint a white supremacist to be his chief strategist and Senior Counselor, as Trump has done with Steve Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News, an alarming far-right US website. Nor did he call for a “total and complete shutdown” of America’s borders to Muslims, as Trump did last December, and nor did he suggest that there should be a registry of all Muslims, as Trump did last November. Read the rest of this entry »
The song was featured in a video (on YouTube and Facebook) for the Close Guantánamo campaign, launched last week, just after Donald Trump’s unfortunate election victory, which, sadly, makes it seems less, rather than more likely that Guantánamo will be closed unless, before he leaves office in January, President Obama can fulfill the promise to close the prison that he first made on his second day in office.
As the last verse of the song states:
Obama promised to close the prison for good
On his second day in office
But Republicans resisted his plans
And he lacked the political will to do it
But as the years drag on and on
And the men still held get older and iller
Endless imprisonment without charge or trial
Is what it always was — a form of torture
Last week, the Close Guantánamo campaign that I co-founded with the US attorney Tom Wilner in January 2012 released a new promotional video for the Countdown to Close Guantánamo. This is an initiative launched at the start of the year to count down President Obama’s last year in office, in an effort to encourage him to fulfill the promise to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay that he made on his second day in office, a mission suddenly made all the more important last week, after Donald Trump won the Presidential Election, to the shock of the Democratic Party and of decent people everywhere. Today, President Obama has just 63 days left to get Guantánamo closed. To encourage him to fulfill his promise, please print off a “50 days to go” poster for November 30, take a photo with it, and send it to the Close Guantánamo campaign, with, if you like, a message for President Obama, and/or advice for Donald Trump.
The video (also on Facebook) featured photos of celebrities and concerned citizens across the US and around the world holding up posters reminding President Obama how many days he had left to close Guantánamo, and also featured “Close Guantánamo,” a song I wrote for my band The Four Fathers, which is available below, via our Bandcamp page, to listen to, and, if you wish to support the band, to buy as a download — for just £1 ($1.25). Drummer Brendan Horstead also deserves thanks for making the campaign video — and the cover of the single.
Last Thursday, just two days after the US Presidential Election, I was delighted to speak to Kevin Gosztola of Shadowproof (formerly FireDogLake) for his “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast series. The show was made available on the site on Sunday, but when it was posted the focus was on Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein, who was interviewed in the first half-hour of the one-hour show, along with a partial transcript of the interview.
And so, yesterday, Kevin posted an article focusing on my interview with him, including a transcript of much of our interview. The interview is available here, as an MP3, beginning 30 minutes in, and I hope you have time to listen to it and to share it if you find it useful. You can also listen just to my interview, in an edit made by my friend the campaigner Bernard Sullivan, which is available on Soundcloud here.
Kevin had picked up on a press release I sent him about the video for the Close Guantánamo campaign that I launched last Thursday, in the hope of maintaining pressure on President Obama to do all in his power to close Guantánamo before he leaves office in January. The video is also on Facebook, and anyone wanting to get involved is urged to print off a poster to remind President Obama that, on November 30, he will have just 50 days left to close the prison, to take a photo with it, and to send it to us, to add to the more than 500 photos that have been sent in by celebrities and concerned citizens across the US and around the world since the Countdown to Close Guantánamo was launched in January. Read the rest of this entry »
Is anyone really surprised that, in a leaked memo, a consultant from the global financial services company Deloitte, working for the Cabinet Office, has concluded that the Tory government is in disarray when it comes to implementing Brexit?
The consultant highlighted that “no common strategy has emerged” between government departments regarding how to implement Brexit, despite what the Guardian, reporting on the memo, which was leaked to the Times, described as “extended debate among the permanent secretaries who head Whitehall departments.” The Guardian also explained that the various government departments are working on “well over 500 projects, which are beyond the capacity and capability of Government to execute quickly,” adding that the government may need to hire an extra 30,000 civil servants to deal with the additional work.
The consultant added:
One Department estimates that it needs a 40% increase in staff to cope with its Brexit projects … [E]very Department has developed a “bottom up” plan of what the impact of Brexit could be — and its plan to cope with the “worst case”. Although necessary, this falls considerably short of having a “Government plan for Brexit” because it has no prioritisation and no link to the overall negotiation strategy.
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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