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.

This was a move on Obama’s part that, sadly, enshrined indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial as his own policy, not just one inherited from Bush, but he did follow it up with the establishment of the Periodic Review Boards, which functioned as a kind of parole system, whereby prisoners could be approved for release if they demonstrated to a panel of military and intelligence officials that they were contrite, and that they had plans for a constructive post-release life.

As a result of the PRBs, which ended up applying not just to the “forever prisoners,” but also to many of those initially recommended for prosecution by the task force, as the legitimacy of the military commissions collapsed in a number of court rulings, 38 men were recommended for release by the PRBs, and 36 of them were freed before Obama left office (the other three men still held who were approved for release under Obama were actually approved for release by the 2009 task force).

The Periodic Review Boards under Trump

Since the start of Trump’s presidency, although the PRB process still exists, it has failed to deliver a single recommendation for release, and seems to be doing nothing more than simply going through the motions. It may be that this is because the remaining 26 prisoners in the PRB system are genuinely regarded as still constituting a threat to the US, or it could be because of the changing political context — from Obama, who was using the PRBs as a way to bypass Congressional obstacles to the release of prisoners, and to inch towards his promise to close the prison, to Trump, who wants to keep it open, and has no interest in releasing anyone.

Last year, I wrote about the first PRBs that had taken place under Trump — some file reviews, purely desk-based reviews every six months, and full reviews, where the prisoners get to go before a panel of officials (by video link) to make a case for their release. These were supposed to take place every three years, but under Obama they had tended to be every one or two years, with some even taking place at shorter notice. I wrote about these reviews in two articles last May, Under Trump, Periodic Review Boards Continue at Guantánamo, But At A Glacial Pace and Review Boards Approve Ongoing Imprisonment of Saifullah Paracha, Guantánamo’s Oldest Prisoner, and Two Others.

In the full reviews, three men had ended up having their ongoing imprisonment approved — alleged al-Qaeda facilitator Sharqawi Abdu Ali Al Hajj (ISN 1457), the Pakistani businessman Saifullah Paracha (ISN 1094), and Haroon al-Afghani (ISN 3148), a hapless Afghan who had only recently secured legal representation — while a fourth man, Omar Muhammad Ali al-Rammah (ISN 1017), a Yemeni seized in Georgia, against whom the US seemed to have no case, was awaiting a verdict after his review in February 2017.

Over a year since I last wrote about the PRBs, the board members have still not made a decision in al-Rammah’s case, as Jessica Schulberg recently explained in an article for the Huffington Post, stating, “The Pentagon declined to say why it is taking so long to make a decision in Al-Rammah’s case. But the lengthy delay indicates a disagreement between government officials over whether the Yemeni should be cleared for release.”

Schulberg proceeded to explain that, although the panel members — “senior officials from the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice and State; the Joint Staff; and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence” — must reach a unanimous decision, “even after they make a decision, their bosses — the heads of those agencies — can object to the decision and request a meeting to reexamine the case,” and can also “request a review within 30 days of the PRB’s decision.” They also “step in if the PRB can’t reach a consensus,” as Sarah Higgins, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told Schulberg in an email. She added, “I can’t share at this time which scenario is holding up the final determination,” and advised that the DoD remains “committed to the PRB process.”

Wells Dixon, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents men still held at Guantánamo, told Schulberg that it was “unlikely that the PRB has failed to reach a consensus after 16 months of deliberating.” As he put it, “My speculation is that some of these men have been approved for transfer by the board, there has then been an objection, and the principals committee has not met to resolve that objection — or has met but has not resolved it.”

In the meantime, a new round of full reviews began in January, with the case of Khalid Qasim (ISN 242), a Yemeni, and a prominent artist at Guantánamo, who remains held because the authorities don’t, historically, like his attitude. The board approved his ongoing imprisonment in March, as they did for Abdul Rabbani Abu Rahmah aka Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani (ISN 1460), a Pakistani whose case was reviewed in February, and Uthman Abd al-Rahim Muhammad Uthman (ISN 27), a Yemeni whose case was reviewed in April, with a decision delivered in May.

No decision has yet been taken in the case of Moath Hamza Ahmed Al-Alwi (ISN 28), a Yemeni, and another prominent artist, whose case was reviewed in March, and two more prisoners have recently had their cases reviewed: Abd Al-Salam Al-Hilah (ISN 1463), a Yemeni businessman, on June 19, and Haroon al-Afghani — again — on June 26. Human Rights First covered al-Hilah’s review, the only other media outlet to take any interest whatsoever in the PRBs.

Torture victim Mohammad Mani Ahmad al-Qahtani (ISN 63) is the next to be reviewed, on July 24, and, although no other full reviews are currently listed, it is reasonable to assume that the cases of the rest of the 26 men will be reviewed over the rest of the year and into 2019. Meanwhile, the file reviews also continue, with a big list on the PRB website, but as with the full reviews, it is hard to shake the notion that, under Trump, there is no reason for any panel to stick their neck out and recommend a prisoner for release.

When the boss says — or tweets — that he doesn’t think anyone should be released from Guantánamo, why would a panel of officials invite his scorn by approving the release of anyone tarred as one of “the worst of the worst,” and who, it seems, very few people care about?

The PRBs, I fear, have become a sham — although I would dearly love to be proved wrong, as the sad truth is that amongst the 26 are men who have never had anything whatsoever to do with al-Qaeda or international terrorism, and whose continued imprisonment — because of a perceived bad attitude related to their long imprisonment without charge or trial — makes a mockery of justice.

As Wells Dixon also pointed out, “keeping the PRB system in place, even in its neutered form, gives the Trump administration a nominal defense when critics accuse it of indefinitely detaining prisoners without due process,” as Jessica Schulberg described it.

Dixon said, “It is the only thing that the government can point to to show that there is any sort of review that is occurring at Guantánamo. It is what the government hangs its hat on to fight off habeas claims,” like the one currently being reviewed in a US court, which was brought on behalf of eleven prisoners. He added, “It is a meaningless process for all practical purposes.”

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 see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in 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), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London.

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, The Complete Guantánamo Files, 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.

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.

And because “the will of the people” apparently had to be respected, May has, ever since, been at the head of a cabinet that, essentially, represents the success of the kind of isolationist lunatics that even Margaret Thatcher recognized as needing to be kept firmly locked in a box throughout her premiership.

Out of his depth, David Davis heads the government’s Brexiteers, along with the vile Liam Fox, and the totally unprincipled Boris Johnson, whose cheerleading for leaving the EU played a major part in the Leave campaign’s success, even though Boris didn’t mean it, and was only going along with it as he jockeyed for position.

Weirdo Michael Gove is back too, and bizarrely even medieval throwbacks like arch-Leaver Jacob Rees-Mogg are getting serious media coverage these days — as part of the mainstream media’s extraordinary failure to question the Brexit narrative properly. Back in 2015-16, they behaved as though Nigel Farage was the King of England, or the Prime Minister, when he was the head of a party with, at most, one MP, and now the media fawn over the ridiculous figure of Rees-Mogg.

After the result, like so many liberal Remainers, I was actually quite depressed, as my articles from the time show; from the day after, UK Votes to Leave the EU: A Triumph of Racism and Massively Counter-Productive Political Vandalism, and, from June 26, 2016, Life in the UK After the EU Referendum: Waking Up Repeatedly at a Funeral That Never Ends.

I then followed the twists and turns as Parliament, generally in a depressingly feeble manner, made noises about needing the right to meaningfully participate in the Brexit process — which Brexiteers hated, even though the whole point of Brexit was to wrest back the illusory control that the EU had to restore British sovereignty, which, in the UK, resides with Parliament, and not with whichever clown is installed in 10 Downing Street.

But this is all just part of the Brexit madness that has existed for the last two years. When a legal challenge was mounted, the pro-Brexit tabloids — in particular, the Daily Mail under the execrable Paul Dacre, and the Sun under non-Brit Rupert Murdoch — accused High Court and Supreme Court judges of being traitors, and they continue to do the same every time MPs or the House of Lords do anything to rock their ludicrous fantasies about Brexit.

Leaving the EU, contrary to the Brexiteers’ blunt obsession with pretending that it’s as simple as shutting a door, is to undo 45 years of laws and treaties that have created an incredibly complex system tying us to our European neighbours — facilitating the seamless trade with the EU that constitutes 60% of our business, a fact that ought to provide a compelling reason for not allowing Brexit to proceed.

My analogy is that Brexit is like chopping a body in half, but then having only a few minutes for the surgery required to prevent the body from dying — an impossible task, but in our new fantasy Britain, the Brexiteers will be denying that we’re bleeding to death until they draw their final breath.

Brexiteers, meanwhile, have no answers to Remainers’ thoroughly valid sense of alarm, relying on simple-minded platitudes that fail to bear up under even the most minimal scrutiny. To be honest, I have found the whole topic so depressing that I have largely given up on it over the last year, although I always keep an eye out for the crucial analysis of Ian Dunt of politics.co.uk, whose book Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now? is required reading — and also includes some serious analysis of the elephant in the room that the Tories simply don’t want to properly acknowledge: that there is an intractable Irish border problem that can’t be wished away, and that may either cause a resurgence of war in Ireland (generally referred to quaintly as ‘the Troubles’) or the break-up of the Union (which is supposed to be absolutely central to the Tories’ political philosophy), with, no doubt, Scotland following if Brexit goes ahead. Such is the Brexit madness, however, that last week, when polled on this, a majority of die-hard Brexiteers said they’d be happy to lose Northern Ireland to preserve their Brexit fantasy.

Another baleful effect of the Brexit vote, which I must note, before I reflect on where we are now and what the future might bring, is that racism is noticeably on the rise in Brexit Britain. Whenever I have met an EU national in the last two years, I have apologised for the change in their treatment over the last two years, asking about, and always receiving confirmation that, since the referendum, they have been subjected to abuse, and being told to “go home”, that simply didn’t happen before. The cat is out of the bag, and what vicious, mangy creature it is.

So where are we now? Today, I’m glad to note, an estimated 100,000 people marched in central London to demand a second referendum. I wasn’t able to make it, as I had an important housing campaign meeting in Lewisham, but I also couldn’t quite face yet another incredibly polite pro-EU march, as I’ve been on many in the last two years, and I don’t think politeness is really working. I was, however, pleased to note that the Observer reported the following:

With more businesses poised to issue dire Brexit warnings this week and senior Tories already drawing up plans to soften Theresa May’s exit proposals, organisers of the march on Sunday said it showed Britain’s departure from the European Union was not a “done deal”.

A former aide to Margaret Thatcher, several Labour MPs and pro-EU campaigners from across Britain took part in the demonstration, marking two years since the Brexit vote. Organisers said that people from every region and walk of life were among those who took part in the march down Whitehall.

Conservative supporters marched alongside Labour voters and Liberal Democrats during the protest, which saw angry denunciations of the chaos that has ensued inside government since the Brexit vote. Labour’s leadership also came under pressure at the march for refusing to back a second public vote. There were chants of “Where’s Jeremy Corbyn” from the crowd. The Labour leader was on a visit to a Palestinian refugee camp.

The Observer added:

Anger on the streets at the prime minister’s handling of the Brexit negotiations is being accompanied by a renewed push from industry to ensure that trade with Europe is not disrupted as a result of leaving.

More prominent manufacturing firms are set to issue warnings about Britain’s Brexit negotiations within days, after Airbus and BMW broke cover to say they could reconsider their UK investment plans unless a Brexit deal was reached keeping Britain closely aligned with Europe.

The only real way for that to happen, of course, is for Brexit to be scrapped, but despite today’s protest, it remains unclear how that can happen. Personally, I’m not sure I trust the electorate to deliver a second referendum result different from the first, given that the country is still, on balance, or for less balanced between Leave and Remain, with, still, millions of people who refuse to make any kind of commitment one way or another.

I actually think MPs should derail it, but I don’t hold out much hope for that either, as they have generally been so craven when it comes to rocking the Brexit boat. Resistance by the Lords has been more robust, but they lack the power to genuinely stop the government in an meaningful manner.

Do we really have to crash out of the EU, and destroy our economy, before we wake up, kick out the Tories, and ask the EU to forgive our episode of madness and let us back in?

I fear that the answer is yes, as I remember why it is that I’ve been so studiously avoiding engaging with Brexit for most of the last year. It’s simply too depressing …

Note: Anyone who’s seen my band The Four Fathers recently will know that we perform a storming song I wrote about Brexit, ‘I Want My Country Back (From The People Who Wanted Their Country Back)’, which we’ll be recording in about three weeks’ time, and then intend to release. Do get in touch if you want to be informed about its release.

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 see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in 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), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London.

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, The Complete Guantánamo Files, 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.

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.

Although the prisoners were granted constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights by the Supreme Court in June 2008, those rights were eviscerated by a number of appeals court decisions between 2009 and 2011, effectively gutting habeas corpus of all meaning for the Guantánamo prisoners. The unacceptable reality of Guantánamo now is that the men still held can only be freed at the whim of the president, a statutory change by the U.S. Congress, or a landmark judicial decision. None of these possibilities are remotely plausible at present.

Donald Trump inherited 41 prisoners from Barack Obama, but he has only released one man, a Saudi repatriated to ongoing imprisonment as part of a plea deal he agreed in the military commission trial system in 2014. Of the 40 men still held, only nine are facing, or have faced trials. Five were approved for release by high-level government review processes under President Obama, but are still held, while the other 26, accurately described as “forever prisoners” by the media, are being held indefinitely without charge or trial.

Every day that Guantánamo remains open is a black mark against America’s notion of itself as a nation founded on the rule of law, which respects the rule of law. We call on Donald Trump to close it without further delay, and to charge or release those still held.

[Below is a great photo of the Center for Constitutional Rights’ staff and interns in New York united in calling for the closure of Guantánamo on its 6,000th day of existence. Staff also held up placards for three prisoners CCR represent: Sufyian Barhoumi, approved for release by a high-level review process under President Obama,but still held, and “forever prisoners” Sharqawi al-Hajj and Guled Hassan Duran].

A great photo of the Center for Constitutional Rights’ staff and interns in New York united in calling for the closure of #Guantanamo on its 6,000th day of existence on June 15, 2018. Staff also hold up placards for three prisoners CCR represent: Sufyian Barhoumi, approved for release by a high-level review process under President Obama,but still held, and "forever prisoners" Sharqawi al-Hajj and Guled Hassan Duran.Andy Worthington, the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign, said: “6,000 days is far longer than the two world wars combined. It is outrageous that the U.S. government continues to perpetuate the myth of an ‘endless war,’ as a supposed justification for holding prisoners indefinitely without charge or trial, when this is, in fact, a policy for which there is no justification whatsoever.”

Sue Udry, Executive Director of Defending Rights & Dissent said: “Guantánamo Bay prison is a living symbol of America’s refusal to live up to the promise of our Constitution. Although President Trump has made clear his disinterest in human rights, due process, and the rule of law, we call on him to choose justice over inhumanity and close the prison immediately.”

Helen Schietinger of Witness Against Torture said: ”It is significant — and not accidental — that all the men who have been imprisoned at Guantánamo are Muslim. How many holy months of Ramadan have they missed during these 6000 days? How many more must they endure, never being allowed visits by their families?”

Close Guantánamo
Defending Rights & Dissent
Dorothy Day Catholic Worker
London Guantánamo Campaign
No More Guantánamos
September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows
TASSC International (Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition)
The Tea Project
Voices for Creative Nonviolence
Witness Against Torture
World Can’t Wait

The above was issued as a press release by all the groups above. The poster is a Close Guantánamo initiative, via the Gitmo Clock which counts in real time how long Guantánamo has been open. Throughout the year, supporters of the campaign have been taking photos with posters counting how long the prison has been open, and urging Donald Trump to close it. Those photos can be found here.

As published on Close Guantánamo.

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 see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in 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), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London.

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, The Complete Guantánamo Files, 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.

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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The Guantánamo Files

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The Battle of the Beanfield

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Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

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Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo

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