Archive for June, 2018

No Escape from Guantánamo: An Update on the Periodic Review Boards

Four Guantanamo prisoners whose cases are still nominally being reviewed by Periodic Review Boards. Clockwise from top left: Omar al-Rammah, awaiting a decision in his review after 16 months, and Khalid Qasim, Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani and Uthman Mohammed Uthman, who all had their ongoing imprisonment upheld after reviews this year.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.

Regular Guantánamo-watchers will know how wretched it is that Donald Trump is in charge of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, because he appears to have no ability or willingness to understand that it is a legal, moral and ethical abomination, where most of the 40 men still held are imprisoned indefinitely without charge or trial, in defiance of all agreed laws and treaties, and a handful of others are facing trials in a broken trial system, the military commissions, that is not fit for purpose.

Under George W. Bush, a total of 532 prisoners were released from Guantánamo, and Barack Obama released another 196. Trump, to date, has released just one man, a Saudi repatriated for ongoing imprisonment, who was only released because of a plea deal he had agreed to in his military commission proceedings in 2014, and has shown no interest in releasing anyone else, even though five of the 40 men still held were approved for release by high-level review processes under President Obama. With only nine men facing trials, that also leaves 26 other men in that unjustifiable limbo of indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial.

The only mechanism that exists that theoretically could lead to the release of any of these men is the Periodic Review Board system, the second review process set up by President Obama. The first, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, assessed in 2009 whether prisoners should be freed or tried or whether they should continue to be held without charge or trial. 156 were recommended for release, and 36 for prosecution, and 48 for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial, on the basis that they were regarded as too dangerous to release, but insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »

Today is the 20th Anniversary of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture: Will the Torture and the Impunity Ever Stop?

No free pass for torture: an image prepared by the ACLU.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.

 

June 26 is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, and today marks its 20th anniversary. When it first took place in 1998, the date was chosen because it is a particularly significant day in the field of human rights. Eleven years previously, on June 26, 1987, the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the UN Convention Against Torture), an enormous breakthrough in the global moral struggle against the use of torture, came into effect, and June 26 also marks the date in 1945 when the UN Charter, the founding document of the United Nations, was signed by 50 of the 51 original member countries (Poland signed it two months later).

The establishment of the UN and of key pledges regarding human rights has been a high point for the aspiration for a better world, which, of course, came about as a response to the horrors of the Second World War. After the UN was founded, the next major milestone in this quest was the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948, and in 1950, in a similar vein, the newly formed Council of Europe established the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) (originally known as the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms), which entered into force on September 3, 1953.

Unfortunately, although aspirations for a better world are profoundly worthwhile, they constantly jostle with the political realities of a world in which the thirst for power, paranoia, nationalism and capitalism seek to undermine them. Nevertheless, they constantly provide a benchmark for higher human ideals, and it is always reassuring when human rights are prominently observed. Read the rest of this entry »

Grenfell and the Social Housing Crisis: How Kensington and Chelsea Council Behaved Like “A Property Developer Masquerading as a Local Authority”

Justice for Grenfell: banner on a march in central London on June 16, 2018, just two days after the first anniversary of the fire in June 2017 that killed 72 people (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

In a meeting of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee on June 20 to discuss ‘Local Authority Support for Grenfell Tower Survivors’, Ed Daffarn, one of the survivors of last June’s entirely preventable tower block fire, in which 72 people died, reported an exchange with Kensington and Chelsea Council’s Chief Executive, Barry Quirk, who took on that role a week after the fire, which cuts to the heart of the problems facing those living in social housing in Britain today.

Daffarn told MPs that, at a meeting wth survivors’ organisation Grenfell United, Barry Quirk “said that RBKC [the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea] were a property developer masquerading as a local authority.”

Daffarn added, “Think about that. They were property developers masquerading as a local authority. They failed to keep us safe because they had higher priorities – getting their hands on the land, this massive goldmine they had.”

The confession by Quirk, who was formerly the Chief Executive of Lewisham Council, is significant because, when every aspect of social housing is made subservient to the money-making opportunities offered by housing development, residents of social housing are no longer actually safe in their homes. Read the rest of this entry »

Basketcase Britain: Two Years After the EU Referendum, the Tories Are Still Clueless and Racism Is Still Rampant

An apocalyptic view of London (image via Reddit).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

Exactly two years ago, Britain went to the polls for what turned out to be one of the most depressing days, politically, in my entire life, as a small majority (51.89%) of the 72.21% of the population who could be bothered to vote expressed their desire to leave the EU.

The referendum was merely advisory; in other words, it was not legally binding, but the government never acknowledged this. In fact, referendums involving major constitutional change generally require at least a two-thirds majority, but the Tories ignored that as well.

David Cameron, who had called the referendum to placate UKIP and the far right of his own party, and had mistakenly thought it would be an easy win, walked off unscathed into the sunset, and after a short bloodbath the hapless Theresa May — who had spent six years as a horribly racist Home Secretary — was apparently the only senior minister left standing who could take over. Read the rest of this entry »

Thoughts on Stonehenge and the Summer Solstice 2018: Has the Dominant Materialism Killed Some Magic in the World?

A photo of the summer solstice sunrise at Stonehenge on the morning of June 21, 2018. In a very modern manner, it was taken by a police drone.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

So the sun shone this morning, and it looked like a lovely sunrise at Stonehenge on the summer solstice. According to the BBC, however, the number of attendees was just 9,500, considerably less than in some years since Managed Open Access to the great temple on Salisbury Plain was reintroduced in 2000, after 16 years in which access to Stonehenge on the summer solstice was prevented through the existence of a military-style exclusion zone.

In part, this was due to the solstice dawn taking place on a Thursday morning. Attendee numbers are highest when it falls on a weekend, but other factors may also have been involved. It now costs £15 to park a vehicle for the solstice — “£15 per car, live-in vehicle and non-commercial minibus (up to 19 seats)”, as English Heritage describe it — and security has been ramped up in the last two years, primarily, it seems, because of the government’s delight in keeping us in a perpetual state of fear — and racist fear, to boot — by pretending that every aspect of our lives is subject to a potential terrorist threat, even the summer solstice at Stonehenge.

“As with last year’s event”, the BBC explained, “Wiltshire Police confirmed it had stepped up security with armed police on patrol.” Yes, that’s right. Armed police at Stonehenge. What a horrible and unnecessary policy. Supt. Dave Minty, Wiltshire Police’s overnight commander, conceding that there had been no trouble at all, and that “behaviour at the stones was ‘brilliant’, with no arrests made”, nevertheless said of the security situation, “People seem to have adapted really well to the heightened level of security and they’ve been really patient with it.” Read the rest of this entry »

Celebrating 400 Days of My Photo Project ‘The State of London’

A composite image of the latest photos from Andy Worthington's photo project 'The State of London'.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, photographer, commentator and activist. Check out all the photos to date here.

 

Back in March 2011, my life changed when I was hospitalised after a blood clot had turned two of my toes black. Doctors at St. Thomas’s Hospital, opposite the Houses of Parliament, saved my toes — a mercy for which I am eternally grateful to the NHS — but after I recovered, my life changed again when I began cycling across London on a daily basis — and taking photos everywhere I went — in May 2012.

When I got ill, I had managed to give up smoking, which would otherwise have killed me, but I then started piling on the pounds instead, on a steady diet of biscuits and cakes, and so getting back on my bike on a daily basis seemed like the perfect way to get fit.

I’d been a cyclist since I was about four years old, but like many useful habits, it had become sidelined as I smoked too much, and also as a result of my obsessive sedentary lifestyle as a writer, researcher and commentator and activist on Guantánamo, which had consumed my life since 2006. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: Grenfell 1st Anniversary – The Silent Walk and the Solidarity March

Photos from Flickr by Andy Worthington of the Grenfell Silent Walk and the Grenfell Solidarity March on June 14 and June 16, 2018.Please check out my photo sets on Flickr – of the Silent Walk in Kensington on June 14, 2018 and of the Solidarity March in central London on June 16, 2018.

Please also feel free to support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

It’s just over a year since the defining event in the UK last year — the Grenfell Tower fire, an entirely preventable disaster in west London, in which 72 people died when an inferno engulfed a 24-storey tower block in North Kensington in west London, and I’m pleased to be posting photos from two recent Grenfell-related events as my contribution to trying to make sure that there is no let-up in the pressure for justice and accountability following the first anniversary of the disaster last June. 

The first photo set is of the Silent Walk for Grenfell on the actual anniversary. Silent Walks have taken place on the 14th of every month since the fire, in the vicinity of the tower, and on the anniversary, on Thursday June 14, thousands of people turned up, from across London as well as from other places in the UK, to show solidarity with the survivors and the local community. The Silent Walks are extremely moving experiences, and the 1st anniversary walk was, of course, no exception.

The second photo set is from the Grenfell Solidarity March in central London, starting and ending outside 10 Downing Street, and including a visit to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on Marsham Street, organised by the survivors’ group Justice4Grenfell and the Fire Brigades Union. Read the rest of this entry »

Today Marks 6,000 Days of Guantánamo: Rights Groups, Concerned Citizens and Former Prisoner Shaker Aamer Urge Donald Trump to Close It

Former Guantanamo prisoner Shaker Aamer urges Donald Trump to close Guantanamo on June 15, 2018, the 6,000th day of the prison's existence.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.

 

Please join us in urging Donald Trump to close Guantánamo. Take a photo with a 6,000 days poster, either by printing it, or on a tablet or even on your phone, and send it to us to post on the Close Guantánamo website — or post it on Facebook and tag us, joining former prisoner Shaker Aamer, pictured here (click on the image to enlarge it), who says:

“Tell Donald Trump:
As long as Guantánamo is open, America will never be great again.
And as long as America is committing injustice, America will never be great again.
And as long as America has military posts all over the world, America will never be great again.
And as long as America is supporting and helping dictators all over the world, America will never be great again.”

Today, June 15, 2018, is a depressing milestone in the long history of U.S. detention at Guantánamo Bay. Today the Guantánamo prison, set up after the 9/11 attacks, has been open for 6,000 days.

Most of the men held at Guantánamo over the last 6,000 days (16 years, five months and four days) have been held without charge or trial, in defiance of international laws and treaties governing the treatment of prisoners. There are only two acceptable ways to deprive an individual of their liberty: either as a criminal suspect, to be tried in a federal court; or as a prisoner of war, held unmolested until the end of hostilities. The men at Guantánamo are neither. Instead, after 9/11, the Bush administration conceived of a novel category of prisoner — one without any rights whatsoever — and implemented this at Guantánamo. Read the rest of this entry »

Grenfell One Year On: How Can We Feel Safe in a Country That Regards Everyone in Social Housing as Inferior?

The Silent Walk for Grenfell, December 14, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Exactly one year, ago, an inferno engulfed Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey tower block in north Kensington, in west London, with such speed and ferocity that 71 people died, and a 72nd person died this January as a result of injuries sustained that night.

It was a disaster that should never have happened, and the fact that it did cuts to the heart of how Britain operates in the 21st century.

The tower block was built of essentially incombustible concrete, and the process known as compartmentalisation was meant to ensure that any fire that broke out would be contained within the flat in which it broke out, with every other flat supposed to be able to resist the spread of fire for an hour, giving the fire services time to arrive on the scene.

In fact, fire leapt up the tower like nothing anyone had seen before, clearly indicating that every safety measure that was supposed to prevent an inferno had drastically failed. At the heart of the disaster were measures taken that had fatally corrupted the structural integrity of the tower. In order to make the tower appear more attractive, new cladding had been applied to it, but the cladding was flammable, and had created the inferno that took so many lives. Read the rest of this entry »

Quarterly Fundraiser Day 3: Still Seeking $2,000 (£1,600) to Support My Guantánamo Work Over the Next Three Months

A panel from the comic 'Guantanamo Bay is Still Open. Still. STILL!' by Jess Parker and Sarah Mirk, featuring Andy Worthington.Please click on the ‘Donate’ button below to make a donation towards the $2,500 (£2,000) I’m trying to raise to support my work on Guantánamo over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

Dear friends and supporters,

Since I started working independently on Guantánamo, over 12 years ago, I have largely been reliant on the support that you, my readers, have given and continue to give to me via donations that enable me to carry on researching and writing about Guantánamo, and calling for the prison to be closed, a vocation — some might say an obsession — that has, to date, led to me writing and publishing over 2,200 articles about Guantánamo.

I never meant to embark on this path as an independent journalist and activist, but it seemed to be the only appropriate response to my compulsion to tell the truth about Guantánamo on an essentially relentless basis — the truth being that it must be closed, because it is a lawless place of brutality and vengeance, full of alleged intelligence that, to a shockingly large degree, does not relate to any kind of truth, but consists of lies made by prisoners about their fellow prisoners, after they were tortured or otherwise abused, or even bribed with better living conditions.

My independence has allowed me to cover Guantánamo more assiduously than most of the mainstream media, which generally doesn’t maintain a relentless focus on issues of chronic injustice, even though it should, and has also enabled me to use my research and journalism to push more into campaigning, as I did in 2014-15 with We Stand With Shaker, the campaign to free Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, and as I continue to do via my website here, and also via the Close Guantánamo campaign that I set up with the US attorney Tom Wilner in 2012 — where, to provide a current example of my campaigning, I am asking people to mark a terrible milestone — 6,000 days of Guantánamo’s existence — on Friday by taking a photo with a poster marking this sad occasion and sending it to us. 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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