Archive for October, 2017

“When Will My Organs Fail? When Will My Heart Stop?”: Guantánamo Hunger Striker Khalid Qassim Fears Death Under Trump’s New Policy

Guantanamo prisoner Khalid Qassim (aka Qasim), in a photo from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

It’s eleven days since prisoners at Guantánamo, represented by the human rights organization Reprieve, reminded a forgetful world of the never-ending injustice of the prison. Ahmed Rabbani, a Pakistani prisoner, and Khalid Qassim (aka Qasim), a Yemeni, both long-term hunger strikers, told their lawyers that, since September 20, “a new Senior Medical Officer (SMO) stopped tube-feeding the strikers, and ended the standard practice of closely monitoring their declining health.”

I wrote about the plight of the hunger strikers — and Donald Trump’s disturbing new policy — in an article last Saturday, but at the time the rest of the world’s mainstream media showed no interest in it. It took another four days for the New York Times to report on the story, and even then Charlie Savage accepted assurances from the US authorities that “an 11-year-old military policy permitting the involuntary feeding of hunger-striking detainees remained in effect,” an assertion that I regard as untrustworthy, because the US military has a long track record of being untrustworthy when it comes to telling the truth about Guantánamo.

Last Thursday, Reprieve followed up on its initial reporting by securing an op-ed in Newsweek by Ahmed Rabbani, entitled, “Dear President Trump, Close Guantánamo Bay and Give Us a Fair Trial”, which I reported here, and on Friday the Guardian gave Khalid Qassim the opportunity to comment. His article, “I am in Guantánamo Bay. The US government is starving me to death,” is cross-posted below, and I hope you have time to read it, and will share it if you find it useful. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Hunger Striker Ahmed Rabbani, Left to Die by Trump, Calls for “Basic Justice – a Fair Trial or Freedom”

Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed Rabbani in a photo made available by his lawyers at Reprieve, and taken before his weight dropped to under 100 pounds as a hunger striker.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

It’s now nine days since the international human rights organization Reprieve issued a shocking press release, explaining that two clients at Guantánamo, the Pakistani Ahmed Rabbani, and Khalid Qassim (aka Qasim), a Yemeni, both hunger striking to protest about the injustice of their seemingly endless imprisonment without charge or trial, had told them that, since September 20, following new instructions from Donald Trump, “a new Senior Medical Officer (SMO) stopped tube-feeding the strikers, and ended the standard practice of closely monitoring their declining health.”

I immediately wrote an article about the news, and was, frankly, astonished that it took another four days for the mainstream media to respond — and when that happened, it was just the New York Times paying attention, and, to my mind, giving too much credibility to the authorities, via a spokesman who claimed that the military’s “11-year-old military policy permitting the involuntary feeding of hunger-striking detainees remained in effect.” Given the lies we have heard from the military at Guantánamo over the years, I asked, in an analysis of the New York Times article, why we should trust them.

Expanding on the story further, Reprieve, on Thursday, secured coverage in Newsweek — a description of the current situation, made in a phone call to Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of Reprieve, by Ahmed Rabbani, who has been at Guantánamo, without charge or trial, for just over 12 years, and who, before that, was held and tortured for 545 days in CIA “black sites” including the disgusting “black site” in Afghanistan, codenamed COBALT, which was known to the prisoners as the “dark prison.” Read the rest of this entry »

Abandoning Guantánamo: The Supreme Court’s Shame as a Military Commission Appeal Is Turned Down

Protestors against rh existence of Guantanamo outside the US Supreme Court on January 11, 2012, the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

On Tuesday (October 10), when the Supreme Court turned down an appeal submitted by Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a Guantánamo prisoner convicted of terrorism charges in October 2008 in a military commission trial, the justices demonstrated that, for over nine years now, they have proved incapable of fulfilling their role of upholding the law when it comes to issues relating to terrorism.

This is a profound disappointment, because, four months before al-Bahlul’s conviction, on June 12, 2008, those who respect the law — and basic human decency — were thrilled when the Supreme Court delivered a major ruling in favor of the prisoners at Guantánamo. In Boumediene v. Bush, the justices ruled that the prisoners had constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights; in other words, that they could ask an impartial judge to rule on whether or not their imprisonment was justified.

The ruling was the third major ruling by the Supreme Court regarding Guantánamo. In June 2006, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the court had ruled that the military commission trial system at Guantánamo did not have “the power to proceed because its structures and procedures violate both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the four Geneva Conventions signed in 1949.” The court also ruled that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, prohibiting torture and “humiliating and degrading treatment,” had been violated. Read the rest of this entry »

New York Times Finally Reports on Trump’s Policy of Letting Guantánamo Hunger Strikers Die; Rest of Mainstream Media Still Silent

An image of Guantanamo by Sami al-Haj, as reproduced by British artist Lewis Peake in 2008, based on a drawing by Sami that the Pentagon censors refused to allow the public to see. The drawing, one of a series of five, was commissioned by Sami's lawyers at the lawyer-led international human rights organization Reprieve.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

So today, five days after the lawyer-led human rights organization Reprieve issued a press release, about how two of their clients had told them that, since September 20, prisoners on a long-term hunger strike were no longer being force-fed, and four days after I reported it (exclusively, as it turned out), the New York Times emerged as the first — and so far only — mainstream media outlet to cover the story, although even so its headline was easy to ignore: “Military Is Waiting Longer Before Force-Feeding Hunger Strikers, Detainees Say.”

As Charlie Savage described it, military officials at Guantánamo “recently hardened their approach to hunger-striking prisoners,” according to accounts given by prisoners to their lawyers, “and are allowing protesters to physically deteriorate beyond a point that previously prompted medical intervention to force-feed them.”

“For years,” Savage continued, “the military has forcibly fed chronic protesters when their weight dropped too much. Detainees who refuse to drink a nutritional supplement have been strapped into a restraint chair and had the supplement poured through their noses and into their stomachs via nasogastric tubes.” Read the rest of this entry »

What Should Trump Do With the US Citizen Seized in Syria and Held in Iraq as an “Enemy Combatant”?

"Detainee Holding Cell": a US military sign, origin unknown.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

It’s nearly a month since my curiosity was first piqued by an article in the Daily Beast by Betsy Woodruff and Spencer Ackerman, reporting that a US citizen fighting for ISIS had been captured in Syria and was now in US custody. Ackerman followed up on September 20, when “leading national security lawyers” told him that the case of the man, who was being held by the US military as an “enemy combatant,” after surrendering to US-allied Kurdish forces fighting ISIS in Syria around September 12, “could spark a far-reaching legal challenge that could have a catastrophic effect on the entire war against ISIS.”

At the time, neither the Defense Department nor the Justice Department would discuss what would happen to the unnamed individual, although, as Ackerman noted, “Should the Justice Department ultimately take custody of the American and charge him with a terrorism-related crime, further legal controversy is unlikely, at least beyond the specifics of his case.” However, if Donald Trump wanted to send him to Guantánamo (as he has claimed he wants to be able to do), that would be a different matter.

A Pentagon spokesman, Maj. Ben Sakrisson, told Ackerman that, according to George W. Bush’s executive order about “war on terror” detentions, issued on November 13, 2001, and authorizing the establishment of military commissions, “United States citizens are excluded from being tried by Military Commissions, but nothing in that document prohibits detaining US citizens who have been identified as unlawful enemy combatants.” Read the rest of this entry »

Trump’s Disturbing New Guantánamo Policy: Allowing Hunger Strikers to Starve to Death

A hallucinatory image of force-feeding at Guantanamo by Sami al-Haj, as reproduced by British artist Lewis Peake in 2008, based on a drawing by Sami that the Pentagon censors refused to allow the public to see. The drawing, one of a series of five, was commissioned by Sami's lawyers at Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

Disturbing news from Guantánamo, via the human rights organization Reprieve. Yesterday, in a press release, Reprieve explained that the authorities at Guantánamo have stopped force-feeding hunger-striking prisoners, a practice that has existed for ten years, because of a new Trump administration policy.”

Hunger strikers have existed at Guantánamo almost since the prison opened, and in 2013 a prison-wide hunger strike drew worldwide condemnation for President Obama’s inaction in moving towards closing the prison, as he had promised on his second day in office. Inconvenienced by Republican lawmakers, who had raised considerable obstacles to the release of prisoners, Obama had chosen not to challenge the Republicans, and had, instead, done nothing. The hunger strike changed all that, but towards the end of 2013, after the release of prisoners resumed, the authorities at Guantánamo stopped reporting the numbers of men who were on a hunger strike.

According to Reprieve, since that time, some prisoners have continued with their hunger strikes, “peacefully protesting a lack of charges or a trial,” although very little has been heard about them, with just one example reported in recent years — that of Sharqawi al-Hajj, a Yemeni held without charge or trial at Guantánamo since September 2004, whose case I reported on last month, when he weighed just 104 pounds, and when, after he refused to submit to being force-fed, he “lost consciousness and required emergency hospitalization.” Read the rest of this entry »

Ten Years On, Guantánamo’s Former Chief Prosecutor on Why He Resigned Because of Torture, and How It Must Never Be US Policy Again

A panel at the New America Foundation on January 11, 2012, discussing Guantanamo on the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison. From L to R: Tom Wilner, Morris Davis, Andy Worthington and Jim Moran.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

Ten years ago, a significant gesture against the torture program introduced by the administration of George W. Bush took place when Air Force Col. Morris Davis, the chief prosecutor of the military commission trial system at Guantánamo Bay, resigned, after being placed in a chain of command below two men who approved the use of torture. Davis did not, and he refused to compromise his position — and on the 10th anniversary, he wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, reiterating his implacable opposition to torture, his incredulity that we are still discussing it ten years on, and his hopes for accountability, via the fact that, in August, torture architects James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen settled a lawsuit brought against them by three men tortured in CIA prisons, and also because, in the near future, “a citizen-led group, the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture, will hold a public hearing to take testimony from people who were involved in and affected by the interrogation program designed by Mitchell and Jessen.”

I’m cross-posting the op-ed below — but first, a little background.

I remember Col. Davis’s resignation, as it took place just a few months after I’d started writing about Guantánamo on an almost daily basis, and I knew it was a big deal, although I didn’t know the extent of it at the time. I did know, however, that he was not the first prosecutor to resign. Four resigned before him, including Marine Lt. Col. Stuart Couch, who was supposed to prosecute the Mauritanian Mohamedou Ould Slahi, but refused to because of the torture to which he had been subjected. Read the rest of this entry »

My Thoughts on Gun Control, Based on a Comparative Analysis of the US and the UK

A celebrated US gun control advert - from 1981, I believe. The world has moved on (West Germany no long exists, for example, following German reunification), but the facts remain broadly the same - dozens of gun-related deaths per year in other countries, over 10,000 in the US.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

Following the latest gun-based terrorist atrocity in US (the Las Vegas Strip Massacre, in which a 64-year old white man shot dead 59 people and wounded more than 500), here are my thoughts on gun control, based on a comparative analysis of the differences between the US and the UK.

First of all, let me explain that, in London, where I live, I can’t, off the top of my head, think of where to find a single gun shop. In contrast, I think it’s fair to say, guns are readily available in the US.

As CNN explains, “Hundreds of stores sell guns, from big chains like Walmart to family-run shops.” Background checks are conducted in store purchases,” where gun buyers have to fill out a form from the ATF (the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives). However,required information only includes the buyer’s name, address, place of birth, race and citizenship. The store then runs a background check with the FBI, but this is a process that can only take a few minutes. There’s also a loophole to avoid any kind of background check — buying a gun at one of America’s many gun shows, where there are no checks.

In contrast, this is what you have to do to get a gun in the UK (the information is from the UK government):

You need a firearms certificate issued by the police to possess, buy or acquire a firearm or shotgun. You must also have a certificate to buy ammunition. You can get a firearm or shotgun certificate application form from the firearms licensing unit of your local police force.

You must: complete an application form; provide 4 passport photographs; have 2 referees for a firearm certificate and 1 referee for shotgun certificate; pay the fee for the certificate you are applying for.

You must also prove to the chief officer of police that you’re allowed to have a firearms certificate and pose no danger to public safety or to the peace.

A shotgun certificate won’t be given or renewed if the chief officer of police has a reason that you shouldn’t be allowed to have a shotgun under the Firearms Act. Or if they don’t think you have a good reason to have, buy or acquire a shotgun.

So now here are some statistics.

There was a total of 571 homicides (murder, manslaughter and infanticide) in the year ending March 2016 in England and Wales.

26 of those homicide victims (5% of the total) were killed by shooting.

In contrast, in the US, in 2015, there were 13,500 deaths by shooting.

The US has a population five times larger than the UK, so if the US had Britain’s gun laws, it is reasonable to assume that the death toll from guns would drop from 13,500 a year to around 130.

Or, to put it another way, if the UK had America’s gun culture, instead of 26 people being killed every year by guns, the number would be 2,700.

In other words, 100 times more people are killed by guns in the US than in the UK.

The US has around 300 million guns, whereas the UK has 1.8 million.

If the UK followed the US’s example, there would be 60 million guns in the UK.

If the US followed the UK’s example, there would be just nine million guns in the US.

And if there were just nine million guns in the US, instead of 300 million, I think it’s fair to suggest that there would be a phenomenal reduction in the number of gun deaths.

Defenders of America’s gun culture like to claim that “guns don’t kill people: people kill people,” but the evidence demonstrates that, in fact, while people do of course kill people, the overwhelming conclusion that has to be drawn from a dispassionate analysis of the facts is that it is predominantly people with guns who kill people.

Try gun control now, and see what happens.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

Life After Guantánamo: The Story of Mourad Benchellali, Freed 13 Years Ago But Still Stigmatized

Former Guantanamo prisoner Mourad Benchellali, who was released in 2004, but is still not free from the unjustified stigma of having been in Guantanamo.

Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

Three weeks ago, around the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, there was a sudden flurry of media interest in Guantánamo, which was reassuring amidst the general indifference about the prison since Donald Trump became president. Most of the articles published focused on the alleged perpetrators of the attacks, and the inability of the military commission trial system to deliver justice because of its own inadequacies, and because the men allegedly responsible were all tortured for years in secret prisons run by the CIA, which I covered at the time, while others looked at former prisoners’ stories.

Four days after the anniversary, for example, the New York Times published a moving article by Mansoor Adayfi, resettled in Serbia last year, which I cross-posted here with my own commentary, while Al-Jazeera profiled Mourad Benchellali, a French national who was released in 2004, and has since become known for his efforts to prevent the radicalization of impressionable young people.

I’ve known about Benchellali’s story since I first began researching Guantánamo 12 years ago, in the fall of 2015, because the stories of most of the European nationals freed from the prison were well-reported — and contributed enormously to people’s general understanding of how malignant a project Guantánamo really is. Read the rest of this entry »

The Crime of Destroying Social Housing in London – and the Significance (Or Not) of Jeremy Corbyn’s Response

A photo of the first stage of demolition on the Heygate Estate in Southwark, south east London, in April 2011 (Photo: Lotte Sheedy for the Architects Journal).This is my 2900th article since I began writing here on a full-time basis in May 2007. If you like what I do, please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

A great crime is taking place in London — the destruction of social housing estates by councils, who, squeezed of cash by central government, and, for decades, prevented from spending money on social housing, have entered into deals with private developers, in which housing — primarily estates — that the councils claim they have no money to refurbish are demolished, and replaced by new developments that offer huge profits for the developers, but that provide no social housing, or a risibly small amount.

In recent years, the purely private developers have been joined by housing associations, the preferred choice of governments, since the time of Margaret Thatcher, for managing social housing. However, with their central funding completely cut by the Tories since 2010, they have also been obliged to embark upon more and more developments featuring a large component of private housing to subsidise their properties for rent.

A further complication is that, in one of the most cynically breathtaking acts of spin in modern British history, the social housing provided is generally what is officially termed “affordable,” but which, in reality, is not affordable at all for most Londoners. Boris Johnson, during his eight destructive years as London’s Mayor, set “affordable” rents at 80% of market rents, and in most of London — if not all — market rents are so out of control that those on the median income in London (the level at which 50% of workers earn more, and 50% earn less) are paying up to 70% of their wages on rent, when the acceptable model — in pre-Thatcher days — used to be that no one should pay more than a third of their income, just as, before the insane bubble that has more or less existed since New Labour took office in 1997, the acceptable cost of a house was no more than three and a half times a worker’s income. 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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