Archive for May, 2017

Guantánamo’s Difficult Diaspora: Former Prisoner Hussein Al-Merfedy, in Slovakia, Still Feels in a Cage

Hussein al-Merfedy, a Yemeni and a former Guantanamo prisoner, photographed in Zvolen, Slovakia, where he was released in November 2014 (Photo: Alex Potter for Newsweek).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 three months of the Trump administration.

 

Over the last few months, I’ve been catching up on some stories I missed, about former Guantánamo prisoners seeking — and often struggling — to adjust to life in third countries, which took them in when the US government refused or was unable to repatriate them after they had been approved for release by high-level US government review processes.

Since 2006, dozens of countries have offered new homes to Guantánamo prisoners, and the examples I have looked at have mostly focused on men resettled in various European countries — see Life After Guantánamo: Yemeni Released in Serbia Struggles to Cope with Loneliness and Harassment (about Mansoor al-Dayfi, released in July 2016), Life After Guantánamo: Egyptian in Bosnia, Stranded in Legal Limbo, Seeks Clarification of His Rights (about Tariq al-Sawah, released in January 2016), and Life After Guantánamo: Yemeni Freed in Estonia Says, “Part of Me is Still at Guantánamo” (about Ahmed Abdul Qader, released in January 2015). In The Anguish of Hedi Hammami, A Tunisian Released from Guantánamo in 2010, But Persecuted in His Homeland, I also wrote about the difficulties faced by Hammami, a Tunisian first released in Georgia, who returned to his home country after the Arab Spring, only to find that he faces “a constant regimen of police surveillance.”

One day, I hope, all the men released from Guantánamo will have lawyers successfully negotiate an acceptable basis for their existence with the US government. As it currently stands, they are regarded as “illegal enemy combatants” or “unprivileged enemy belligerents,” even though almost all were never charged with any sort of crime, and their status, compared to every other human being on earth, remains frustratingly a  unacceptable unclear. This is especially true, I believe, for those settled in third countries, as no internationally accepted rulebook exists to codify their rights, and the obligations of those taking them in. Read the rest of this entry »

DIY Cultures 2017: The Counter-Culture Is Alive and Well at a Zine Fair in Shoreditch

Zines and posters from DIY Cultures at Rich Mix in Shoreditch, London on May 14, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

Last week I paid a visit to DIY Cultures, a wonderful — and wonderfully packed — one-day event celebrating zines and the DIY ethos at Rich Mix in Shoreditch, curated by a core collective of Sofia Niazi, my friend Hamja Ahsan and Helena Wee, and was pleasantly reminded of the presence of the counter-culture, perhaps best summed up as an oppositional force to the prevailing culture, which has long fascinated me, and in search of which I am currently bouncing around ideas for a writing project I’d like to undertake.

Next week it will be exactly ten years since I started publishing articles here — on an almost daily basis — relating, for the most part, to Guantánamo and related issues. Roll back another year, to March 2006, and my Guantánamo project began in earnest, with 14 months of research and writing for my book The Guantánamo Files.

Before that, however, I had been interested more in notions of the counter-culture than championing and trying to reinforce the notion that there are absolute lines that societies that claim to respect the law must not cross — involving torture and imprisoning people indefinitely without charge or trial. Read the rest of this entry »

Witness Against Torture Launch “Forever Human Beings,” a 41-Day Campaign for the 41 “Forever Prisoners” Still Held at Guantánamo

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 next three months of the Trump administration.

 

Since Donald Trump became president just over four months ago, the aggressive, and often unconstitutional incompetence emanating from the White House every day, on so many fronts, has unfortunately meant that long-standing injustices like the prison at Guantánamo Bay are in danger of disappearing off the radar completely, even more comprehensively than during the particular lulls in the presidency of Barack Obama, who largely sat on his hands between 2011 and 2013, when confronted by cynical obstruction in Congress to his hopes of closing the prison, doing very little until the prisoners forced his hand, embarking on a prison-wide hunger strike that drew the world’s attention, and embarrassed him into renewed action.

Through the Close Guantánamo campaign that I established with the attorney Tom Wilner in 2012 I have tried to keep Trump’s responsibility for Guantánamo in the public eye. Since his inauguration, opponents of Guantánamo have been sending in photos of themselves holding posters calling for Trump to close Guantánamo, which I’ve been posting on the website, and on social media — particularly through Facebook — ever since. Over 40 photos have now been published, with many more to come. Please join us. This Wednesday marks 125 days of Trump’s presidency, a suitable occasion to remind him that Guantánamo must be closed.

I’m pleased also to endorse a new initiative by Witness Against Torture, the campaigning group whose work is very close to my heart. Every January, on my annual visits to call for the closure of Guantánamo on an around the anniversary of its opening (on January 11), I spend time with members of Witness, many of whom have, over the years, become my friends, and I was delighted, a few days ago, to receive an email notifying me about “Forever Human Beings,” a 41-day campaign for the 41 “forever prisoners” still held at Guantánamo, launching this Friday, May 26. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: “Zone of Non-Being: Guantánamo,” Featuring Andy Worthington, Omar Deghayes, Clive Stafford Smith, Michael Ratner

A screenshot from 'Zone of Non-Being: Guantanamo', a documentary film released in 2014.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 three months of the Trump administration.

 

Several years ago (actually, way back in December 2012), I was interviewed at my home for a documentary produced by the Islamic Human Rights Commission, which was directed by the filmmaker Turab Shah. For some reason, I never heard about the film being completed (I think its initial screening was in January 2014, when I was in the US), but after Donald Trump became president of the United States, I received an email from the IHRC stating that they were screening the film, which prompted me to look it up, and to discover that it had been put online in July 2014.

The film features a fascinating array of contributors, including myself, former prisoners including Omar Deghayes, Moazzam Begg and Martin Mubanga, Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of Reprieve, the late Michael Ratner, the founder of the Center for Constitutional Rights, the author and academic Arun Kundnani, Ramon Grosfoguel, Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, the journalist Victoria Brittain, the writer Amrit Wilson, and Massoud Shadjareh of the ICRC.

The ICRC described the film as follows: Read the rest of this entry »

Abu Zubaydah Will Not Testify at Guantánamo Military Court Because the US Government Has “Stacked the Deck” Against Him

Abu Zubaydah at Guantanamo, in a photo taken by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross. His lawyer Mark Denbeaux released the photo in May 2017, and stated that it was a recent image.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 three months of the Trump administration.

 

Yesterday, for Close Guantánamo, the campaign I co-founded in January 2012 with the attorney Tom Wilner, I published an article, Abu Zubaydah Waives Immunity to Testify About His Torture in a Military Commission Trial at Guantánamo, explaining how Zubydah (aka Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn), a Saudi-born Palestinian, an alleged “high value detainee,” and the unfortunate first victim of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 torture program, was planning to appear as a witness today a pre-trial hearing at Guantánamo involving Ramzi bin al-Shibh, one of five men accused of involvement in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Zubaydah was planning to discuss bin al-Shibh’s claims that “somebody is intentionally harassing him with noises and vibrations to disrupt his sleep,” as Carol Rosenberg described it for the Miami Herald, but as Mark Denbeaux, one of his lawyers, explained, by taking the stand his intention was for the truth to emerge, and for the world “to know that he has committed no crimes and the United States has no basis to fear him and no justification to hold him for 15 years, much to less subject him to the torture that the world has so roundly condemned.”

Denbeaux also explained how “the Prosecution here in the Military Commissions is afraid to try him or even charge him with any crime,” adding, “The failure to charge him, after 15 years of torture and detention, speaks eloquently. To charge him would be to reveal the truth about the creation of America’s torture program.” Read the rest of this entry »

Ismail Einashe, British Citizen of Somali Origin, Describes How The Status of Migrants is “Permanently Up for Review” in the New Intolerant UK

The journalist Ismail Einashe, in the header from his article about citizenship in the UK, firs published in the New Humanist magazine, and then in the Guardian.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

What strange, and almost unbelievably infuriating times we live in, as Donald Trump somehow remains president in the US, and Britain continues to be bludgeoned by a phoney demonstration of democracy. The latest example is the General Election on June 8, which follows a previous example just two years ago, despite the Tories introducing legislation to ensure that elections only take place every five years. In between, there was, of course, the lamentable EU referendum that is the reason for this General Election, as Theresa May struggles to provide endless distractions from the reality that leaving the EU will be an unmitigated disaster, the single greatest instance of a nation declaring economic suicide in most, if not all of our lifetimes.

For Theresa May, this is an election in which nothing must be discussed, just the endless repetition of soundbites about being “strong and stable,” and lies about how an increased Tory majority will improve our Brexit negotiations. In fact, the size of the government’s majority means nothing at all in the negotiations with the EU that the Tories want to avoid discussing because they have no idea what they are doing, and while this is ostensibly good for the opposition parties, the Brexit blanket, like a thick fog, is tending to obscure any serious discussion of the government’s many other failings — on the economy, on the NHS, on all manner of fronts — and this, of course, is being aided by the generally biased, right-wing media that is such a drag on anything resembling progressive politics in this country

What is also being forgotten, or overlooked, is how Theresa May, a soft Remainer who has, cynically, turned herself into the hardest of hard Brexiteers, is so dangerous not only because her actions reveal how she has no principles whatsoever that she will not sacrifice to stay in power, but also because, in her previous job, as the home secretary, she was dangerously racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic. I discussed her record in detail at the time of her leadership victory, in an article entitled, As Theresa May Becomes Prime Minister, A Look Back at Her Authoritarianism, Islamophobia and Harshness on Immigration, and I was reminded of it a few months ago in a detailed article by the journalist Ismail Einashe, a British citizen of Somali origin, which he wrote for the spring 2017 edition of the New Humanist magazine, and which was then picked up by the Guardian. Read the rest of this entry »

Prior to Chelsea Manning’s Release on Wednesday, Here’s What She Wrote to President Obama

Free Chelsea Manning posters, via torbakhopper on Flickr.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 three months of the Trump administration.

 

This Wednesday, May 17, Chelsea Manning — formerly known as Bradley Manning — will be released from prison, in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where she has been held for the last seven years. her role as a whistleblower was immense. As a private, she was 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. See my archive of articles based on those files here.

By that time, Manning was already in US custody in a military brig in Quantico, Virginia, which I first wrote about in December 2010, in an article entitled, Is Bradley Manning Being Held as Some Sort of “Enemy Combatant”? I continued to follow her story closely into 2011 (see here and here), which included President Obama’s indifference to criticism by the United Nations, and when Manning’s trial finally took place, in 2013, I made a particular point of dealing with those parts of the trial in which the significance of the Guantánamo files was examined.

As I stated just before the trial began, “Bradley’s key statement on the Guantánamo files is when he says, ‘the more I became educated on the topic, it seemed that we found ourselves holding an increasing number of individuals indefinitely that we believed or knew to be innocent, low-level foot soldiers that did not have useful intelligence and would’ve been released if they were held in theater.’” Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington Celebrates Five Years of Photographing London for His Project, ‘The State of London’

A photo from the first day of 'The State of London' photo project, May 11, 2012, of Euromix Concrete, on Deptford Creek, Greenwich, London SE10 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and photographer.

 

Please like ‘The State of London’ on Facebook. Please also note that the photos accompanying this article are all from May 11, and were taken from 2012 to 2017. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Canary Wharf from Rotherhithe, London SE16, on a rainy May 11, 2013 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Five years ago, on May 11, 2012, I began a bike-based project to record London in photos that has ended up with me visiting all 120 of London’s postcodes (those that begin EC and WC, NW, N, E, SE, SW and W), as well as some — but not all — of the areas that make up Greater London, with a population of 8,673,713 in 2016 in the 32 boroughs (and the City of London) that make up the capital.

On these journeys, I have taken tens of thousands of photos of whatever attracts me, architecturally, historically, culturally, as well as photos of the changing seasons and the changing weather, and the changing face of the city as greed and regeneration remake whole swathes of the capital, often in what I regard implacably as an ugly and divisive manner.

A photo from Cutty Sark Gardens, Greenwich, London SE10 looking west towards Deptford and Rotherhithe, with, in the distance, the Shard and the City of London. Photo taken on May 11, 2014 (Photo: Andy Worthington).The project arose as a response to a difficult time in my life. Contracting a rare blood disease in 2011 led to me giving up smoking and piling on the pounds in response. A year after my illness, it was clear that the way I’d been living for five years prior to my illness — and that had largely continued in the year since (although, crucially, with the consumption of sweet and salty fatty things replacing the cigarettes) — was not a healthy way to proceed. My life was too much on a laptop, and largely sedentary, and something had to change.

As a result, I thoroughly reacquainted myself with what was possibly my oldest hobby — cycling, which I began as a child, and which I had always done, although not as regularly as I should have after I began researching and writing (about Guantánamo) on a full-time basis in 2006. I had started cycling regularly around south east London in the early months of 2012, often with my son Tyler, who was 12 at the time, and on May 11, 2012, I decided to start taking photos of my meanderings by bike, and to consciously wander further afield. Read the rest of this entry »

Under Trump, Periodic Review Boards Continue at Guantánamo, But At A Glacial Pace

A collage of images of Donald Trump and Guantanamo on its first day back in January 2002.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 three 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.

Since taking office nearly four months ago, Donald Trump has threatened much, but delivered little on Guantánamo. Leaked draft executive orders showed him wanting to revive the use of torture and to set up new CIA “black sites,” as well as sending captured Islamic State fighters to Guantánamo, but it seems that wiser heads talked him down. There was a deluge of open criticism about his torture plans, including from the CIA and some of his own appointees for senior government roles, and while the plan to bring IS members to Guantánamo didn’t become a headline issue, it seems certain that, behind the scenes, sober advisers told him that he would need a new military authorization to do so, and, in any case, the best venue for prosecuting alleged terrorists is in federal court.

Nevertheless, Trump has failed to release anyone from Guantánamo, despite holding five men approved for release under Barack Obama out of the 41 men still held. Just ten are facing, or have faced trials, while the 26 others are eligible for Periodic Review Boards, a process that was first dreamt up in the early months of Obama’s presidency, but that only began in November 2013.

A high-level review process consisting 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, the PRBs were set up as a parole-type process to review the cases of men regarded by the previous review process — 2009’s Guantánamo Review Task Force — as being too dangerous to release, even though the task force members also conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, meaning that the so-called evidence was unreliable.  Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers Release ‘Riot’, New Online Single Tackling Austerity and Inequality

Listen to ‘Riot’ here!The photo is by Eric Hossinger (hozinja) on Flickr, and is reproduced via a Creative Commons agreement. It was taken on December 4, 2010 during a UK Uncut protest outside Topshop in Oxford Street about tax avoidance by the company's boss, Sir Philip Green.

Today my band The Four Fathers are releasing ‘Riot’, our third online single from our forthcoming album, ‘How Much Is A Life Worth?’ following the release of ‘Close Guantánamo’ (2017 mix)’ in February, and ‘Dreamers’ last month.

I initially wrote ‘Riot’ in 1986, while living in Brixton, as a punky reggae song that dealt with how parents and society mess up kids’ minds and emotions — themes of youthful alienation that didn’t survive when I revived the song for The Four Fathers at the end of 2015. We’ve been playing it live since then, and we recorded it last summer in the first session for our new album, ‘How Much Is A Life Worth?’ which we hope to release on CD in September.

Musically, our version of my old tune is the closest we’ve come to date to echoing the minor key tunes and armagideon themes of classic late 70s roots reggae, which remains my favourite music, nearly 35 years after it first blew my mind at university in Oxford. 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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