Archive for January, 2017

Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning’s 35-Year Sentence; Whistleblower Who Leaked Hugely Important Guantánamo Files Will Be Freed in May 2017, Not 2045

Protestors holding signs calling for the release of Chelsea Manning during a gay pride parade in San Francisco in 2015 (Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters via ZUMA Press).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next two months.

 

Great news from the White House, as, in the dying days of his presidency, Barack Obama has commuted the 35-year sentence of Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning), the former Army intelligence analyst responsible for the largest ever leak of classified documents, including the “Collateral Murder” video, featuring US personnel indiscriminately killing civilians and two Reuters reporters in Iraq, 500,000 army reports (the Afghan War logs and the Iraq War logs), 250,000 US diplomatic cables, and the Guantánamo files, released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, on which I worked as a media partner.

I regard the Guantánamo files as a hugely significant resource, which, unfortunately, have been used by right-wing, Islamophobic magazines and websites in an effort to justify the continued existence of Guantánamo. Like Biblical fundamentalists, who swear that everything in the Bible is true (and who, as a result, are unable to recognize its many contradictions), the right-wing defenders of Guantánamo fail to recognize the huge number of contradictions in the files.

Any intelligent analysis of the files instead reveals the extent to which they lay bare the cruelty and incompetence of the authorities at Guantánamo, providing the names of the many unreliable witnesses, who, as a result of torture for other forms of abuse, or being bribed with better living conditions, or simply through exhaustion after seemingly endless — and pointless — interrogations, told their interrogators what they wanted to hear. And the interrogators, of course, wanted whatever information would make the prisoners appear significant, when, in truth, they had been rounded up in a largely random manner, or had been bought for bounty payments from the Americans’ Afghan or Pakistani allies, and very few — a maximum of 3% of the 779 men held, I estimate — genuinely had any kind of meaningful connection with al-Qaeda, the leadership of the Taliban, or any related groups. Most were either foot soldiers or civilians in the wrong place at the wrong time, dressed up as “terrorists” to justify a dragnet, from September 2001 to November 2003 (when the transfers to Guantánamo largely ended) that is primarily remarkable because of its stunning incompetence. Read the rest of this entry »

Reflections on Mortality, on the Death of One of My Oldest Friends, Nick Parsons (1962-2017)

A graveyard angel.I’m thinking about mortality today, with the passing of one of my oldest friends, Nick Parsons, who has died aged 54. At New College, Oxford University, in 1982, it was Nick who introduced me to musicians who had a profound effect on me — Neil Young, Van Morrison, and, in particular, Bob Dylan, whose influence has been enduring. We used to listen to music in his room in the college during our first year (in the so-called ‘New Buildings’ — they weren’t very new, but nor was the college, which was founded in 1379) and by the ‘Bridge of Sighs’ on New College Lane, where Nick’s room was in our second year.

It was also Nick who, one day in June 1983, insisted that he and I and other friends (Rupert and Hugo, you know who you are) get in Rupert’s car and drive down to Stonehenge for the Stonehenge Free Festival, an eye-opening, psychedelic, anarchic jamboree that led, eventually, to me writing my first and second books on Stonehenge and the counter-culture, which, in turn, led to me writing a third book, about Guantánamo, and devoting the last 11 years of my life to getting the prison closed down.

A photo from the Stonehenge Free Festival in 1983 (Photo by Luke B.)That first visit was wonderful, on a personal level, like our own “summer of love,” and in terms of seeing how an alternative to mainstream society could actually exist. We returned again, in 1984, for what was to be the last festival, before its violent suppression in 1985 at the Battle of the Beanfield, but by then it was clear that, in what was one of the darkest years of Margaret Thatcher’s horrible rule, any coherent belief in a brighter future was unravelling under duress, and, sadly, also under self-inflicted wounds. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: The Close Guantánamo Protest Outside the Supreme Court, Jan. 11, 2017

Protestors with Witness Against Torture outside the Supreme Court, calling for the closure of Guantanamo on Jan. 11, 2017, the 15th anniversary of the prison's opening (Photo: Andy Worthington).See my photos on Flickr here!

Please also support my work! I’m currently in the US to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo and trying to raise $1000 (£800) to support my visit.

 

January 11, 2017 was the 15th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo, and for the seventh year running I was in Washington, D.C. to call for the prison’s closure as the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign, with representatives of other rights groups, Witness Against Torture, Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.

This year, the protest took place not outside the White House (which is off-limits in the run-up to presidential inaugurations), but outside the Supreme Court, and, as I explained in my speech to the gathered protestors and the media (those who could be bothered to take an interest), this year’s anniversary was, excruciatingly, a double disappointment, because President Obama is just days away from failing to fulfill the promise to close Guantánamo that he made on his second day in office nearly eight years ago, and Donald Trump is about to take the prison over with his wild promises to “load it up with some bad dudes.”

I urged those gathered to make it a priority, from Day One of the Trump presidency, to demand that Trump frees those men still held who have been approved for release (9 at present, with the release  to Oman yesterday of ten men, although we are told that between 3 and 5 more will be freed by Obama in his last week), and also to demand that he continues with the latest review process, the Periodic Review Boards, for which 26 of the remaining 55 prisoners continue to be eligible. I will soon be launching a new initiative, aimed at Donald Trump, via the Close Guantánamo campaign, and I encourage you to sign up to receive further information, as I draw the year-long Countdown to Close Guantánamo, aimed at President Obama, to an end. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Andy Worthington Laments Obama’s Failure to Close Guantánamo – and Fears What Trump Will Do – Outside the Supreme Court on Jan. 11

Andy Worthington calling for the closure of Guantanamo outside the Supreme Court on January 11, the 15th anniversary of the opening of the prison (Photo: Matt Daloisio).Please support my work! I’m currently in the US to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo and trying to raise $1000 (£800) to support my visit.

 

On Wednesday, I was outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. for the annual protest against the continued existence of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, with representatives from rights groups including Witness Against Torture, Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, plus some powerful spoken word pieces by The Peace Poets.

I spoke about the double disappointment of this depressing anniversary, with Obama just days away from failing to fulfill the promise to close Guantánamo that he made on his second day in office nearly eight years ago, and Donald Trump about to take the prison over with his wild promises to “load it up with some bad dudes,” and I urged those gathered to make it a priority, from Day One of the Trump presidency, to demand that Trump frees those men still held who have been approved for release (19 at present, although we are told that between 13 and 15 will be freed by Obama in his last week), and also to demand that he continues with the latest review process, the Periodic Review Boards, for which 26 of the remaining 55 prisoners continue to be eligible.

The PRBs, which function like parole boards, have reviewed the cases of 64 men in the last three years, and 38 have been approved for release. The 26 other men had their ongoing imprisonment upheld, but their cases are regularly reviewed, and some of them will almost certainly also be approved for release — unless Trump repeals Obama’s 2011 executive order establishing the PRBs. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Discussing Guantánamo on the 15th Anniversary of the Prison’s Opening – Andy Worthington, Tom Wilner, Jim Moran and Rosa Brooks at New America

The panel at New America on Jan. 11, 2017, the 15th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo. From L to R: Peter Bergen, Jim Moran, Rosa Brooks, Tom Wilner and Andy Worthington.Please support my work! I’m currently in the US to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo, and trying to raise $1000 (£800) to support my visit.

 

Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and a typically busy day for me. My seventh annual visit to Washington, D.C. to call for the closure of Guantánamo on the anniversary began with a protest outside the Supreme Court with representatives from rights groups including Witness Against Torture, Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. As usual, there were speakers from all the groups involved, plus some powerful spoken word pieces by The Peace Poets, and video of my talk will hopefully be available soon.

The day continued with a panel discussion, Guantánamo Bay: Year 15, at New America, with my friend and colleague Tom Wilner, counsel of record to the Guantánamo prisoners in their Supreme Court cases in 2004 and 2008, with whom I co-founded the Close Guantánamo campaign five years ago, Jim Moran, former congressional representative for Virginia’s 8th district and a longtime opponent of Guantánamo, and Rosa Brooks, a Senior ASU Future of War Fellow at New America who also served in the Obama administration. The moderator was Peter Bergen, the Vice President of New America and the Director of the International Security Program.

I’m pleased to report that the panel discussion was streamed live, and that a video is available on YouTube. It’s cross-posted below and I do hope you have time to watch it, and to share it if you find it useful. Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer Interview on 15th Anniversary of Guantánamo Opening: US Government “Lied to Their Own People to Let Their Soldiers Accept Torturing Us”

Andy Worthington with Shaker Aamer, after his release from Guantanamo, at a meeting in the House of Commons in November 2015.Please support my work! I’m currently in the US to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo on the 15th anniversary of its opening, and trying to raise $1000 (£800) to support my visit.

 

Regular readers will know that I have had a long involvement in the case of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who was finally freed in October 2015 after a long campaign to secure his release, which involved MPs, the mainstream British media, and protest groups including We Stand With Shaker, the organization I co-founded in November 2014 with the activist Joanne MacInnes, which used a giant inflatable figure of Shaker to highlight his cause, with some quite spectacular success in the media, and with celebrities and MPs.

Since his release, I have maintained contact with Shaker, and, in October, was delighted when he agreed to make a short video for the Close Guantánamo campaign — another organization I co-founded — which is posted below.

Apart from a flurry of activity immediately after his release, Shaker has had little involvement with the media this year, although his words always have resonance, so I was delighted to see, a few days ago, that he had spoken to Al-Jazeera. Read the rest of this entry »

Please Read “Teaching Trump About Gitmo,” An Op-ed in the New York Daily News by Close Guantánamo Co-Founders Tom Wilner and Andy Worthington

A composite image of Donald Trump and Guantanamo, created after his comments last year about keeping Guantanamo open and filling it up with "bad dudes." Please support my work! I’m currently in the US to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo on the 15th anniversary of its opening, and trying to raise $1000 (£800) to support my visit.

 

I’m delighted to report that yesterday, while I was crossing the Atlantic by plane and was offline, the New York Daily News published “Teaching Trump About Gitmo,” an op-ed that I wrote with my friend and colleague Tom Wilner, the US attorney with whom I co-founded the Close Guantánamo campaign exactly five years ago.

The op-ed was a response to the president elect’s recent — and disgraceful — tweet, in which he stated, “There should be no further releases from Gitmo. These are extremely dangerous people and should not be allowed back onto the battlefield.”

In the hope of educating Mr. Trump, Tom and I pointed out that, of the 55 men still held, 19 have been approved for release by two inter-agency review processes — 2009’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, and the current Periodic Review Boards — which are “made up of our nation’s top security, defense and justice officials,” and just ten are facing — or have faced — trials, leaving 26 others whose cases should continue to be reviewed by the Periodic Review Boards, as it seems certain that some of them will also end up being approved for release, like 38 of the 64 men originally whose cases have been reviewed by the PRBs in the last three years. Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington Visits the US for the 15th Anniversary of the Opening of Guantánamo, and for Donald Trump’s Troubling Inauguration

Andy Worthington addressing campaigners in Florida, outside the entrance to US Southern Command, on January 9, 2016 (Photo: Medea Benjamin for Andy Worthington).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo over the next two months.

 

Dear friends and supporters,

I’m delighted to be writing to you from Heathrow Airport — despite a seriously disruptive Tube strike in London — awaiting a flight to New York City, for what will be my seventh annual visit at this time of year, to campaign for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on and around the anniversary of its opening, on Jan. 11.

I’m not delighted to have to keep calling for Guantánamo’s closure, of course, and this year, the 15th anniversary of the prison’s opening is a particular difficult occasion: simultaneously, a definitive black mark against President Obama for having failed to fulfill the promise to close the prison — within a year! — that he made when he first took office eight years ago, and the introduction to Guantánamo under a third president, the worryingly unpredictable Donald Trump, who has vowed to keep Guantánamo open, and to “load it up with bad dudes,” and who, just days ago, tweeted that there should be no more releases from Guantánamo.

Trump’s comments came in spite of the fact that 19 of the 55 men still held have been approved for release by high-level, inter-agency review processes, and others may well be approved for release in future by the latest review process, the Periodic Review Boards, unless he decides, unwisely, to scrap them.

I will be talking about these topics, and reflecting on Guantánamo’s history, what it means, who is held, and why the closure of the prison remains so essential, during my visit. Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are the Four Guantánamo Prisoners Freed in Saudi Arabia, Leaving 55 Men Still Held?

The four prisoners released from Guantanamo to Saudi Arabia in January 2017. From L to R: Mohammed Rajab Abu Ghanim, Mohammed Ali Abdullah Bawazir, Salem Ahmad Hadi Bin Kanad and Abdullah Yahia Yousef al Shabli.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my work on Guantánamo over the next two months.

 

Good news from Guantánamo, as four men have been released to Saudi Arabia, reducing the prison’s population to 55, the lowest number since its opening weeks 15 years ago.

The four men are Yemeni citizens — although one was born in Saudi Arabia, but to Yemeni parents, meaning that he was not given citizenship. A third country had to be found that was prepared to take them in, because the entire US establishment agrees that it is unsafe, from a security perspective, to repatriate any Yemenis. The men will go through Saudi Arabia’s well-established rehabilitation program, although, to be honest, it is obvious upfront that none of these men can be regarded as a threat.

Two were approved for release by President Obama’s cautious, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2009, while the other two were approved for release more recently by the latest inter-agency review process, the Periodic Review Boards, which consider the prisoners’ cases in a manner similar to parole boards — except, of course, for the crucial fact that the men in question have never been convicted of any crimes.

The first of the four, whose case has rarely been discussed, is Abdullah Yahia Yousef al Shabli (ISN 240), who, according to US records, was born in Jeddah on September 10, 1977. Al-Shabli was approved for release by the task force in 2009, but is one of 30 men the task force placed in a category of their own invention, “conditional detention,” which was only supposed to end when someone — it was not determined who, or how — established that the security situation in Yemen had improved. As I explained in August, when 12 Yemenis were released in the UAE, “those in 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, before [the August] releases, had led to 19 men being given new homes — in the UAE, Ghana, Oman, Montenegro and Saudi Arabia.” Six of the 12 Yemenis freed in August were from the “conditional detention group,” and with the two releases to Saudi Arabia from this group, just three men from this group are left — plus another two men from the 126 other men approved for release by the task force. Read the rest of this entry »

Rights Groups, Including Close Guantánamo, Issue Statement in the Run-Up to the 15th Anniversary of the Opening of Guantánamo

Andy Worthington calling for the closure of Guantanamo outside the White House on january 11, 2016, the 14th anniversary of the prison's opening (Photo: Justin Norman).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $1000 (£800) to support my annual visit to the US to call for the closure of Guantánamo (from Jan. 9-21).

 

Dear friends and supporters,

It’s horrible to realize that, next Wednesday, January 11, the prison at Guantánamo Bay will have been open for 15 years, and will begin its 16th year of operations with just  a week left under President Obama’s control, prior to Donald Trump taking it over. Trump, notoriously, promised on the campaign trail to “load it up with bad dudes,” and, just two days ago, tweeted, “There should be no further releases from Gitmo. These are extremely dangerous people and should not be allowed back onto the battlefield.”

As I have done every January since 2011, I will be in Washington, D.C. next Wednesday to call for the prison’s closure— a call aimed at the outgoing president, but, more specifically, now, aimed at Donald Trump.

I arrive in New York City on January 9, and travel to Washington, D.C. the day after, and I’ll soon be posting a more detailed itinerary — although I can tell you that at 2.30pm on January 11 I’ll be at New America to discuss Guantánamo at 15, and what we can expect from Donald Trump, with the attorney Tom Wilner, with whom I co-founded the Close Guantánamo campaign five years ago, Jim Moran, former congressional representative for Virginia’s 8th district and one of the representatives who led opposition to Guantánamo Bay, and New America fellow Rosa Brooks, who was Counselor to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and Special Coordinator for Rule of Law and Humanitarian Policy in the Pentagon from 2009-2011. If you want to attend this free event, please RSVP here. 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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