Archive for February, 2017

The Anguish of Hedi Hammami, A Tunisian Released from Guantánamo in 2010, But Persecuted in His Homeland

A recent photograph of former Guantanamo prisoner Hedi Hammami (Photo: Youssef Bouafif).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 first two months of the Trump administration.

 

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.

The media circus has currently taken one of its darker turns regarding Guantánamo, after an evidently troubled former prisoner, Jamal al-Harith, a British citizen released 13 years ago, blew himself up in Iraq. Too much of the coverage has focused on the UK’s alleged failure to keep him under surveillance, and on the financial settlement he (and all the other released British prisoners) received from the British government in 2010, and not enough on how disgraceful and unacceptable his treatment was in the first place, and how that might have caused lasting damage.

The full-time surveillance of individuals is an expensive matter, and not one that states that respect the rule of law undertake lightly, especially in relation to individuals against whom no case for wrongdoing was ever established. Al-Harith is one of a number of individuals who were only sent to Guantánamo after they had been liberated by the US from a Taliban prison, where they had been held — and abused — because the Taliban thought they were spies, and it is inconceivable that these men were not damaged in some way by being subsequently sent to Guantánamo to be “held in extrajudicial detention for years and subjected to torture on a regular basis,” as the Guardian described it, adding, in al-Harith’s case, that this was “with the complicity of the UK.”

As the Guardian spelled out, the official reason given for al-Harith’s transfer to Guantánamo was “because the US thought he might have useful information on the treatment of prisoners by the Taliban – who had held him as a suspected British spy – not because he was considered dangerous,” and in the end, although the US authorities “thought some questions remained” about al-Harith, they “concluded he had no links to the Taliban or al-Qaida,” an assessment that seems accurate. It is not yet certain what led him to travel to Syria in 2014 to join Islamic State fighters, but it would be unwise to rule out the effects of the time spent in brutal prisons run by both the Taliban and the United States. Read the rest of this entry »

Save the NHS From Its Would-Be Killers, Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt: Please Join the National Protest in London This Saturday, March 4, 2017

Comedian (and former psychiatric nurse) Jo Brand showing her support for the NHS and for the national demonstration in support of the NHS on Saturday March 4, 2017.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

Please join the march for the NHS in London this Saturday!

Four years ago, I was involved in a struggle to save Lewisham Hospital, my local hospital in south east London, from destruction by senior NHS managers working closely with the government of David Cameron. It was an extraordinary grass-roots campaign, at one point involving 25,000 Lewisham residents taking to the streets, and, I’m very glad to note, it was ultimately successful.

Four years on, however, the political situation in the country is far worse than we could have imagined back in 2013, and, it is fair to say, the entire NHS is now at risk. Back then, the outrageous cost of a PFI development in Woolwich had led NHS managers to conclude that they could get away with a long-planned attempt to reduce the number of A&E departments in south east London from five to four, with Lewisham being the intended victim.

In overcoming these plans — which involved a successful judicial review — we were, I think, able to demonstrate that it was disgraceful for the government and NHS managers to suggest that 750,000 Londoners should be served by just one A&E, when Lewisham itself, with a population of 270,000, deserves its own fully-functioning hospital, as does every population centre of a quarter of a million people. Read the rest of this entry »

New Close Guantánamo Video and Updated Campaign Song By Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers

Arlo Varon, the son of Jeremy Varon of Witness Against Torture, calls on Donald Trump to close Guantanamo.Please support my work as a freelance investigative journalist and commentator.

 

Yesterday marked the end of Donald Trump’s first month in office — surely, the most disastrous first month of a presidency in living memory, with a ban on immigrants and visitors from seven mainly-Muslim countries that has been blocked in the courts, a Russian-linked scandal involving Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who has resigned, and a widespread understanding that Trump isn’t fit for the job, and that his administration is severely dysfunctional.

In amongst his machine-gun fire of dreadful policies have come unnerving hints about his proposals for Guantánamo — keeping the prison open and sending new prisoners there, including Islamic State prisoners, and, initially touted but since abandoned, a plan to revive Bush-era torture policies with new CIA-run “black sites.”

While we await further news about Trump’s plans, I’ve been marking his first month in office with a new campaign video for the Close Guantánamo campaign that I founded five years ago with the attorney Tom Wilner, who represented the Guantánamo prisoners in their Supreme Court cases in 2004 and 2008. The video is also available on Facebook. Read the rest of this entry »

Review Boards Approve Ongoing Imprisonment of Three More Prisoners at Guantánamo, Even As Lawmakers Urge Donald Trump to Scrap Them

Protestors with Witness Against Torture outside the Supreme Court on January 11, 2017, the 15th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo (Photo: Andy Worthington).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 first two months of the Trump administration.

 

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.

The problem with Guantánamo has never been what right-wingers delude themselves into thinking it is — that it’s a perfect acceptable, secure facility for holding terrorists whose existence is undermined by liberals constantly trying to close it down, endangering America’s national security.

Instead, the problem is Guantánamo itself, a place of arbitrary detention, where very few of the 779 people held there by the military over the last 15 years have genuinely been accused of any involvement with terrorism, but where, because of the Bush administration’s contempt for internationally recognized laws and treaties regarding imprisonment, the majority of the men held — overwhelmingly, foot soldiers for the Taliban, and civilians, many sold for bounties — have been deprived of any rights whatsoever, and can only be freed at the whim of the executive branch.

For a brief period from 2008 to 2010, those held could appeal to the US courts, where judges were able to review their habeas corpus petitions, and, in a few dozen cases, order their release, but this loophole was soon shut down by politically motivated judges in the court of appeals in Washington, D.C., and the Supreme Court has persistently refused to revisit the positive rulings it made regarding the prisoners’ habeas corpus rights in 2004 and 2008, hurling the men back into a disgraceful legal limbo in which their only hope for release lies, yet, again, with the presidential whim. Read the rest of this entry »

Case of Al-Qaeda Suspect Captured in Yemen Seen As Test of Trump’s Plan to Send New Prisoners to Guantánamo

"Not one step back: Close Guantanamo" - campaigners outside the White House during the Obama presidency, with a message that may be even more significant under Donald Trump.

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 first two months of the Trump administration.

 

For the New York Times on Monday, in ‘Case of Captive in Yemen Could Test Trump’s Guantánamo Pledge,’ Adam Goldman, Matt Apuzzo and Eric Schmitt wrote about the case of Abu Khaybar, an al-Qaeda suspect, around 40 years of age, who was seized in Yemen last fall, and “is being held there by another country, according to four current and former senior administration officials.” The authors added that “[t]he circumstances of his detention are not clear, but he is wanted on terrorism charges in New York.”

However, Abu Khaybar may also be wanted by Donald Trump, to send to Guantánamo, to follow up on his pledge to send new prisoners to the prison. As the authors note, his “suspected affiliation with Al Qaeda gives the United States clear authority to hold him” at Guantánamo, where the detention of prisoners is approved by the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed in the days after the 9/11 attacks, which authorizes the president to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.”

As the Times noted, the new Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, “has repeatedly said that terrorists should not be prosecuted in civilian courts,” a worrying stance given that the military commissions at Guantánamo have been a colossal failure, while federal courts have proven more than capable of successfully prosecuting terrorists, something they have done throughout the last 15 years, even when the Bush administration was most aggressively touting Guantánamo as a new paradigm of detention. Read the rest of this entry »

On Brexit, the British Public Finally Turns on Would-Be Tyrant Theresa May

A collage of British prime Minister Theresa May and the flags of the UK and the EU.Please support my work as a freelance investigative journalist and commentator.

 

Last week was a particularly disastrous week for Parliament, when a horribly large majority of MPs voted to let Theresa May, the Prime Minister, do what she wants regarding Britain’s exit from the EU — and what she wants, as she has made clear, is as “hard” a Brexit as possible — one in which, in order to exercise some spurious control over immigration, we are forced to abandon the single market and the customs union, which will be insanely damaging to our economy.

The MPs’ unprovoked capitulation, by 494 votes to 122, in the vote allowing May to trigger Article 50, which launches our departure from the EU, came despite three-quarters of MPs believing that we should stay in the EU, and despite the narrow victory in last June’s referendum, which, crucially, was only advisory, although everyone in a position of power and authority has since treated it as though it was somehow legally binding.

The MPs’ capitulation was also disgraceful because, following the referendum, a handful of brave individuals engaged in a court battle to prevent Theresa May from behaving like a tyrant, and undertaking our departure from the EU without consulting Parliament. Both the High Court and the Supreme Court pointed out that sovereignty in the UK resides in Parliament, and not just in the hands of the Prime Minister, and that Parliament would have to be consulted. Read the rest of this entry »

Court Rules That Donald Trump’s Disgraceful Immigration Ban Discriminates Against Muslims

No Muslim Ban: a poster by Redbubble.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 first two months of the Trump administration.

 

As a Russia-related scandal engulfs the White House, with the resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s disgraceful immigration ban continues to attract condemnation in US courts. The ban, which bars entry to the US to anyone from seven countries with mainly Muslim populations (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) for 90 days, and refugees for 120 days (with a total ban on refugees from Syria) was first subjected to a nationwide stay nine days ago, when District Judge James Robart, a senior judge in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, declared that the ban was unconstitutional, and granted a temporary restraining order against it that applied nationwide. Washington State’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson had successfully argued in court that the ban “violated the guarantee of equal protection and the first amendment’s establishment clause, infringed the constitutional right to due process and contravened the federal Immigration and Nationality Act,” as the Guardian described it.

Last week, three judges in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld Judge Robart’s ruling, having found that the government had “pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States,” and added that, “[r]ather than present evidence to explain the need for the executive order, the government has taken the position that we must not review its decision at all,” in the Guardian’s words.

Yesterday, in Virginia, a third blow for the government came when District Judge Leonie Brinkema, in Aziz v. Trump, issued a preliminary injunction against the order based specifically on the issue of religious discrimination. Read the rest of this entry »

Check Out the “Donald Trump No!” Photos on the Close Guantánamo Website, and Please Join Us!

This hooded protestor, photographed in Washington, D.C. on January 11, the 15th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, is 85-year old peace campaigner Eve Tetaz, a former schoolteacher from Washington, D.C. and a Witness Against Torture activist who has been arrested on numerous occasions.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 first two months of the Trump administration.

 

24 days into the Trump presidency, the tsunami of disgraceful executive orders that Trump has unleashed has threatened to drown out the lingering injustice of Guantánamo, where President Obama left 41 prisoners — five approved for release, ten facing trials, and 26 others in a legal limbo; reviewable (via Periodic Review Boards), but a limbo nonetheless, regarded as “too dangerous to release” or as candidates for prosecution, but in a system that is so broken that all efforts to prosecute them have been abandoned.

Trump intends to get rid of Obamacare, intends to build a wall between the US and Mexico, has approved the resumption of work on a number of contested pipelines, has approved what may be a colossal program of deportations for undocumented immigrants, has pledged a severe reduction in the number of refugees accepted in the US (including a total ban on refugees from Syria), and has introduced a ban — initially for 90 days — on anyone arriving in the US from seven mainly Muslim countries (Syria again, plus Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen) that is so sweeping that it has provoked widespread protests, has sent shockwaves around the world, and, most crucially, has been blocked by a court in Washington State, a ruling upheld by the 9th Circuit Appeals Court in San Francisco.

In an effort to keep Guantánamo in the public eye, I set up a new page on the Close Guantánamo website (which I established five years ago with the US attorney Tom Wilner) shortly after Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20. The new page features photos of celebrities and concerned citizens from across the United States and worldwide, telling Donald Trump to close Guantánamo, and not to keep the prison open and “load it up with some bad dudes,” as he promised on the campaign trail, a position that he has continued to support via a number of draft executive orders that are currently circulating around the relevant government departments. Read the rest of this entry »

As 9th Circuit Judges Uphold Stay on Donald Trump’s Disgraceful Immigration Ban, 29 Experts from The Constitution Project Condemn Spate of Executive Orders

Protestors against Donald Trump's immigration ban at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Dallas, Jan. 28, 2017 (Photo: Reuters).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 first two months of the Trump administration.

 

There was great news yesterday from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California, as a panel of three judges unanimously upheld the stay on President Trump’s Executive Order barring entry to the US from seven countries (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) whose populations are predominantly Muslim. The stay was issued five days ago by District Judge James Robart, a senior judge in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, and he is one of several high-level heroes resisting Trump’s racist contempt for the constitution, previously discussed in my articles, Trump’s Dystopian America: The Unforgivable First Ten Days and Disgraceful: Trump Sacks Acting US Attorney General Sally Yates, Who Refused to Support His Vile Immigration Ban.

As the Guardian reported, the court found that “the government has not shown a stay is necessary to avoid irreparable injury.” In particular, its ruling noted that “the government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States. Rather than present evidence to explain the need for the executive order, the government has taken the position that we must not review its decision at all.”

In a press release, the Constitution Project (a Washington-Based non-profit organization whose goal is to build bipartisan consensus on significant constitutional and legal questions) noted that the court rejected the Trump administration’s argument that “the president’s decisions about immigration policy, particularly when motivated by national security concerns, are unreviewable, even if those actions potentially contravene constitutional rights and protections,” and stated, “There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.” The Constitution Project also noted that the court added that Fifth Amendment protection against “deprivation of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” applies to everyone within the United States, not just citizens. Read the rest of this entry »

On Brexit, MPs Give Away Sovereignty, Vote to Allow Theresa May to Do Whatever She Wants

A cartoon (provenance unknown) depicting the dangers of the UK leaving the EU.Please support my work as a freelance investigative journalist and commentator.

 

What a disgrace the majority of MPs have shown themselves to be, as they have voted, by 494 votes to 122, to pass the government’s derisory little bill allowing Theresa May to “notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU.”

Although numerous amendments were tabled — seven by Labour, others by other parties — all failed to be passed. On Tuesday, an amendment by Labour’s Chris Leslie, stating that “the government should not be allowed to agree a Brexit deal until it has been passed by both Houses of Parliament,” was defeated by 326 votes to 293 — a majority of 33 — including seven Tory rebels: as well as serial Brexit rebel Ken Clarke, the rebels were Heidi Allen, Bob Neill, Claire Perry, Antoinette Sandbach, Anna Soubry and Andrew Tyrie.

And last night, before the final vote, there was another blow — this one not to the hard-won sovereignty of Parliament, given away by MPs as though it was nothing, but to the three million EU nationals who live and work in the UK, when the amendment by Labour’s Harriet Harman, in her capacity as the chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, guaranteeing EU nationals the right to stay in the UK, was defeated by 332 votes to 290 — a majority of 42. On this amendment, there were three Tory rebels — Ken Clarke, Tania Mathias and Andrew Tyrie. 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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