Archive for July, 2018

Photos: The London Protest Against Donald Trump’s UK Visit, July 13, 2018

Some of my photos from the protest in London against Donald Trump's UK visit on July 13, 2018.Please check out my photo set on Flickr!

And please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

So yesterday a huge protest against Donald Trump, on his first visit to the UK since he became the US president 18 months ago, took place in London. The organisers estimated that almost 250,000 people had turned up, and I was delighted to see so many witty handmade placards, and so many young people showing up to tell Trump that he is not welcome here. Much of the focus, of course, was on his position as the world’s most powerful sexual predator, but there were also numerous placards taking aim at his recent and thoroughly disgraceful immigration clampdown, when he separated children from their parents and imprisoned them.

I was, of course, delighted to see large numbers of people — and particularly women and girls — protesting against Trump, but from the beginning of his presidency, when a visit was first planned, and then called off because of the anticipated scale of protests against him, I have made a point of stating that, while I understand the particular horror of Trump’s role as a sexual predator and people’s opposition to him on that basis, on everything else we should be out on the streets every day protesting against the vile Theresa May and her vile government. In her six years as home secretary, May was persistently racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic, and, of course, was behind the “hostile environment” for immigrants that led to people who were part of the post-war Windrush generation form the Caribbean being forcibly sent back to their countries of origin, despite having lived in the UK for decades.

That said, it is clear that the sheer size of yesterday’s protest ought to give us hope for the future, as it represented, in many ways, a coming together of the many, many different groups of people affected by Donald Trump and what he represents, and if we can do this for Trump then perhaps we can do it again once he’s gone home, and we’re still stuck wth the most ideologically bankrupt government of my lifetime, in which most of the issues that brought people together in such large numbers yesterday are still as relevant — a right-wing, racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic government composed mostly of old white people, hopelessly embroiled in a Brexit nightmare of their own making, that, like Trump’s election, needs to be seen as the death rattle of this old white world. Read the rest of this entry »

Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s Supreme Court Nomination, Has a Dangerous Track Record of Defending Guantánamo and Unfettered Executive Power

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump and a close-up of Guantanamo prisoners photographed on the day the prison opened, January 11, 2002. The photo on the left is an edit of a photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images.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.

Disgraceful though Donald Trump’s presidency is, it will at least be over at some point in the imaginable future, with the potential that his most outrageous policy changes, enacted in legislation by a Republican majority in Congress, can be reversed should Congress end up with a Democratic majority instead.

When it comes to interpreting the law, however, his impact will last for decades, through his nominations to the nation’s District Courts, appeals courts (the Circuit Courts), and, most crucially, the Supreme Court.

Shamefully, although Barack Obama successfully nominated two of the Supreme Court’s nine justices during his eight years in office (Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan), Congress — where Republicans had a majority, as they did throughout most of Obama’s presidency — refused to consider his third nomination, Merrick Garland, nominated in March 2016. Garland’s appointment would have given Democratic appointees a majority on the Supreme Court for the first time since 1970, but Garland’s nomination expired in January 2017, when Obama left office, and when Donald Trump took over he wasted no time in nominating Neil Gorsuch instead, a dangerous right-winger whose nomination was subsequently approved by the Republican-controlled Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

Tomorrow, Lawyers Will Argue in Court That Donald Trump’s Guantánamo Policy Is “Arbitrary, Unlawful, and Motivated by Executive Hubris and Anti-Muslim Animus”

Senior Judge Thomas F. Hogan of the District Court in Washington, D.C. and a photo of prisoners at Guantanamo on the day of the prison's opening, January 11, 2002. 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 a big day for Guantánamo tomorrow, as lawyers for eleven prisoners still held at the prison will be arguing before Senior Judge Thomas F. Hogan in the District Court in Washington, D.C. that, as the New York-based Center for Constitutonal Rights describe it, “[Donald] Trump’s proclamation that he will not release anyone from Guantánamo regardless of their circumstances is arbitrary, unlawful, and motivated by executive hubris and anti-Muslim animus.”

The lawyers submitted a habeas corpus petition for the men on January 11 this year, the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison, as I explained in an article at the time, entitled, As Guantánamo Enters Its 17th Year of Operations, Lawyers Hit Trump with Lawsuit Stating That His Blanket Refusal to Release Anyone Amounts to Arbitrary Detention.

As I also explained in that article, “The eleven men are: Tawfiq al-Bihani (ISN 893) aka Tofiq or Toffiq al-Bihani, a Yemeni who was approved for release by Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2010, Abdul Latif Nasser (ISN 244) aka Abdu Latif Nasser, a Moroccan approved for release in 2016 by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process, and nine others whose ongoing imprisonment was upheld by their PRBs: Yemenis Zohair al-Sharabi aka Suhail Sharabi (ISN 569), Said Nashir (ISN 841), Sanad al-Kazimi (ISN 1453) and Sharqawi al-Hajj (ISN 1457), Pakistanis Abdul Rabbani (ISN 1460) and Ahmed Rabbani (ISN 1461), the Algerian Saeed Bakhouche (ISN 685), aka Said Bakush, mistakenly known as Abdul Razak or Abdul Razak Ali, Abdul Malik aka Abdul Malik Bajabu (ISN 10025), a Kenyan, and one of the last men to be brought to the prison — inexplicably — in 2007, and Abu Zubaydah (ISN 10016), one of Guantánamo’s better-known prisoners, a stateless Palestinian, for whom the post-9/11 torture program was initially conceived, under the mistaken belief that he was a high-ranking member of al-Qaeda.”

On January 18, as I explained in a follow-up article, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly (who ruled on several Guantánamo habeas corpus cases before the appeals court gutted habeas corpus of all meaning for the prisoners) responded, “requiring the government to explain its Guantánamo policy with respect to the men now petitioning the court,” as Scott Roehm, the Washington Director of the Center for Victims of Torture, explained in an article for Just Security, adding, “Specifically, the judge ordered the government to provide the following information by Feb. 16.”

In response, as I explained in another article, the government claimed that, because “the laws of war permit the detention of enemy combatants for the duration of a conflict,” the petititoners “are not entitled to release simply because the conflict for which they were detained — the non-international armed conflict between the United States and its coalition partners against al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces — has been lengthy.”

Lawyers for the prisoners then responded by stating, “The government’s opposition proceeds as if the continuing detention of Petitioners for up to 16 years without charge or trial and without prospect of release by the Trump administration is utterly normal. It is not normal — as a matter of fact and law,” and further explaining that “the government cannot dispute the Trump administration’s stated determination to foreclose any transfers, regardless of individual facts and circumstances — including of those Petitioners cleared for transfer,” and that “there is no legal support for perpetual detention of this sort,” and that “[p]erpetual non-criminal detention violates due process.”

Revisiting these arguments, CCR stated, in a press release a few days ago, “The government maintains that the continuing detention of our clients without charge or trial, and without a prospect of release, is normal. But it is not normal, as a matter of fact and law. We argue that the petitioners’ perpetual detentions violate the Due Process clause of the Constitution and the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). These ‘forever prisoners’ may never leave Guantánamo alive, unless the court intervenes.”

Reporting on the case, the Guardian explained that, unfortunately, the prisoners “will not be allowed to listen to oral arguments at their own hearing, as the Guantánamo administration said there [was] no single room at the camp where they could all be put in restraints while listening to a live feed,” adding that the court “accepted the absence of a room big enough for all the petitioners to be shackled to the floor as a valid reason for them not to hear a direct broadcast of their hearing, and that a recording or transcript at a later date was an adequate substitute.”

The Guardian then discussed the case of Tawfiq al-Bihani, who is represented by Reprieve, one of the organizations involved in the habeas petition, describing how he is “a Saudi-born Yemeni who was arrested in Iran in 2002, where he had fled bombing in Afghanistan,” and who “was flown back to Afghanistan and ultimately transferred to the US authorities.”

The Guardian added that, “According to his lawyers, he was handed over for a price, at a time when bounties were paid for bearded Arabs caught in the region around Afghanistan,” and, “According to the Senate Intelligence committee[‘s torture report, whose executive summary was made public in December 2014], he was taken to a CIA ‘black site’ secret interrogation centre, where he was one of 33 inmates subjected to ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’ before being flown to Guantánamo.”

The Guardian also noted that al-Bihani “was cleared of any involvement in terrorism by US intelligence agencies in January 2010 and given his release papers on three occasions,” and, in 2016, “was even measured for new clothes he was going to wear on being freed, but his release was cancelled at the last minute.”

The Guardian also explained how the Trump administration “has continued to hold him citing ‘a variety of substantive concerns relevant to [his] circumstances, including factors not related to [Bihani] himself,’” prompting al-Bihani himself to ask, “What good is having a court case when there is no hope of justice?” according to his lawyers. He added, “I am still sitting here. Hearing about my court case just gets my hopes up, and my emotions go up and down like a see-saw. I’m happier without the meetings.”

Speaking of the prisoners’ exclusion from their own hearing, Shelby Sullivan-Bennis of Reprieve told the Guardian, “This latest affront to fairness and justice should shock every American, but sadly it doesn’t surprise us. None of the men Reprieve represents has ever been charged with a crime, and two have been cleared for transfer, but they remain stuck in Guantánamo, apparently indefinitely. That the US government now claims they can’t safely be chained to the floor, to hear their own lawyers argue that they should be tried or released, is the latest sick twist in a shameful saga with no end in sight.”

As the Guardian also explained, al-Bihani “has passed his 15 years on Guantánamo writing poetry and has more recently began painting in acrylics,” as his lawyers explained, adding that he also “watches wildlife documentaries, plays football and is following the World Cup.” The lawyers also explained that he is from “a family of 12 siblings,” and that his mother died during his long imprisonment.

“I am able to see the ocean here,” al-Bihani said to his lawyers, adding, “When I feel upset, seeing the ocean helps me go into a trance and deal with my emotions. I have not lost hope, but I got used to the rhythm here. It is the first place I have lived for this long. Before, at home, I was always moving.”

The Guardian also explained how Reprieve has pointed out how ruinously expensive it is to keep prisoners at Guantánamo, stating that “every day al-Bihani spends in Guantánamo costs the US $29,000. Altogether, it has cost more than $170m to keep him in the camp without charge.” On the mainland, in contrast, it costs only a little more than $29,000 to hold a prisoner for an entire year.

In its publicity before tomorrow’s hearing, CCR focused on their client Sharqawi Al Hajj, described as “a 43-year-old Yemeni who has been detained without charge for over 16 years, who is sick and on hunger strike, and for whom the prospect of years more in Guantánamo may mean a death sentence.”

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.

RIP Steve Ditko: You, Jack Kirby and Wally Wood Opened My Eyes to a World of Heroic Fantasy

Steve Ditko's cover for Amazing Spider-Man No. 4, possibly the first super-hero comic I read, as a nine-year old in 1972.Today I’m remembering the US comic artist Steve Ditko, who has died at the age of 90, and was one of three comic artists who opened my eyes to the world of super-heroes — Marvel super-heroes — on a summer holiday in Devon in 1972, when I was nine years old.

On a wardrobe in a B&B where we were staying were pages from a couple of comics, Smash! and Pow!, which were published in the late 60s by Odhams Press, a subsidiary of IPC, featuring reprints of Marvel comics from the 1960s — especially, I remember, Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man, Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four, and Wally Wood’s Daredevil. 

All three titles were written by Stan Lee, whose abilities with characterisation and breezy dialogue helped to ensure that Marvel made super-hero comics cool in the 1960s, and made their main rivals DC, the home of Superman and Batman, look increasingly irrelevant.

However. while Stan may have had the patter, the vision came from the artists. Jack Kirby’s heroic, electric style epitomised the new face of super-heroes, creating a template that continues to fundamentally define the medium. The Fantastic Four started Marvel’s’ super-hero era in November 1961, and in the extraordinarily fertile few years that followed, Kirby, with Lee, also brought forth almost the entire basis of the Marvel Universe — Thor, the Hulk, Iron Man, the Avengers, featuring the revival of Captain America, which Kirby had created with Joe Simon back in the 1940s, and the original X-Men, as well the Silver Surfer, the Black Panther, and a host of memorable villains from the galactic greed of Galactus to the deadly deviousness of Doctor Doom.

In those few corners of this nascent heroic universe left untouched by Kirby, other artists also left an indelible mark, and none more so than Steve Ditko, who, with Lee, created Spider-Man, still Marvel’s most popular character, and a hero whose costume is so definitive that it has barely changed in the 45 years since he first leapt out of the pages of Amazing Fantasy 15 (August 1962) to instant acclaim.

Ditko’s sinuous story-telling graced the first 38 issues of the Amazing Spider-Man, but as I also discovered after Marvel began producing their own weekly black and white British reprints in September 1972, just after my holiday, Ditko was also the creator of Dr. Strange, whose fantastical magical escapades involved surreal landscapes never seen in comics before — or since, to be honest.

A panel from one of Steve Ditko's Dr. Strange comics from the 1960s.The graphic flights of fantasy that emerged from the fertile imagination of Steve Ditko appealed to the nascent 60s counter-culture, even though Ditko himself almost certainly never took any psychedelic drugs at all. As Roy Thomas, the chief writer in the new wave of writers to succeed Stan Lee in the late 60s and into the 70s explained in an interview with Rolling Stone in 1971, ”People who read ‘Doctor Strange’ thought people at Marvel must be heads, because they had had similar experiences high on mushrooms. But … I don’t use hallucinogens, nor do I think any [comic] artists do.”

The third artist I mentioned above, Wally Wood, brought a kind of voluptuousness, and an extraordinary sense of light, to another great creation of the early 60s, Daredevil, created by Lee and veteran artist Bill Everett, who had created Namor, the Sub-Mariner, back in 1939, for the first comic by Marvel’s predecessor, Timely Comics.

Daredevil subsequently became one of my favourite comics — and the only Silver Age title I once owned an entire run of, before reluctantly selling it in the late 80s, but that’s perhaps a story for another time. Now that I’m hitting my stride with this, it might be fun to trace in more detail my journey from that wardrobe in Devon through Marvel UK’s reprints to my emergence, aged 11, as a full-on US Marvel Comics reader, enthralled by the freedom of Marvel’s world in the mid-70s — with Len Wein and Dave Cockrum reviving the X-Men in 1975 (and soon handing it over to Chris Claremont and John Byrne), with the wild Steve Gerber helming several assaults on the dominant US culture, via, for example, Howard the Duck, with Steve Rogers becoming so disillusioned with the US that he briefly gave up his Captain America identity and became Nomad instead, and with other wonderful experiments and new trajectories — the short-lived Killraven series, for example, inspired by War on the Worlds, and the masterly Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu.

My way into this wonderful — and at the time, often quite anarchic — world was primarily via the great little shop Bogus, on Princes Avenue in Hull (in whose environs I grew up from 1966 to 1982), but also through visits to London to the shop with the best name ever, at the time located in St. Anne’s Court in Soho — Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed, the precursor to Forbidden Planet, where I ended up working for a while in the late 80s.

By that time, I had largely grown out of the super-hero world, as it shattered beneath the onslaught of the visionary writer Alan Moore, and the graphic innovations of Frank Miller, moving instead into the world of graphic novels, and independent creators like the Hernandez brothers, the creators of Love and Rockets, only eventually returning to the super-hero world in 2012, when my son was 13, and enthralled by Marvel Studios’ first Avengers film, the wheel turning full circle, and Marvel, though now a corporate giant with a studio owned by Disney, still managing at times to excite and entertain and even, occasionally, to challenge assumptions.

As I say, however, perhaps these are stories better saved to be discussed in greater detail some other time. Back in June 1972, it was Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man, Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four and Wally Wood’s Daredevil that opened an eight-year old’s eyes to a world of heroic fantasy that was to have a genuinely lasting impression — currently, I realise to my muted horror, 46 years and counting!

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.

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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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