Archive for April, 2019

It’s Eight Years Since WikiLeaks Released the Hugely Important Guantánamo Files, Leaked by Chelsea Manning, On Which I Worked as a Media Partner

The logo for WikiLeaks’ release of the Guantánamo Files on April 25, 2011.

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Exactly eight years ago, on April 25, 2011, I wrote an article entitled, “WikiLeaks Reveals Secret Files on All Guantánamo Prisoners” (posted on my website as WikiLeaks Reveals Secret Guantánamo Files, Exposes Detention Policy as a Construct of Lies), for WikiLeaks, to accompany the first of 765 formerly classified military files on the Guantánamo prisoners — the Guantánamo Files — that the organization began releasing publicly that day. The files primarily revealed the extent to which the supposed evidence at Guantanamo largely consisted of statements made by unreliable witnesses, who told lies about their fellow prisoners, either because they were tortured or otherwise abused, or bribed with the promise of better living conditions.

I was working with WikiLeaks as a media partner for the release of the files, and I had written the introductory article linked to above in just a few hours of turbo-charged activity after midnight on April 25, 2011, as I had received notification from WikiLeaks that the files had also been leaked to the Guardian and the New York Times, who would be publishing them imminently.

WikiLeaks had previously become well-known — notorious, even — through its release, in April 2010, of “Collateral Murder“, a “classified US military video depicting the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad — including two Reuters news staff,” and its further releases, throughout 2010, with the Guardian and the New York Times and other newspapers, of hundreds of thousands of pages of classified US documents — war logs from the Afghan and Iraq wars, and US diplomatic cables from around the world. 

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The Case for Closing Guantánamo: The New Yorker’s Major Profile of Mohamedou Ould Salahi and His Former Guard Steve Wood

Mohamedou Ould Salahi (Slahi) on the right, and his former guard Steve Wood on the left. The photo was taken by Salahi in Mauritania in January 2019, when Wood had come to visit him.

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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.

Over the 13 years that I’ve been working to close Guantánamo, some of the most rewarding moments I’ve experienced have been when former prisoners or former guards have got in touch to thank me for my work. 

I was enormously gratified when Moazzam Begg said that he turned to my book The Guantánamo Files to find out who he was at Guantánamo with, because he was held in solitary confinement, and when Omar Deghayes told me that I wrote about Guantánamo as though I had been in the prison with him and the other prisoners. 

I was also moved when former guards got in touch — Brandon Neely, for example, who had been at Guantánamo in its early days, and who got in touch with me when his discomfort with what he had been required to do, which had haunted him, turned into public criticism that persists to this day. On another occasion, I recall, a former guard got in touch. He didn’t want go public, but he wanted to talk about Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who he had been guarding. 

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Extinction Rebellion’s Urgent Environmental Protest Breaks New Ground While Drawing on the Occupy, Anti-Globalisation and Road Protest Movements

Climate emergency: Extinction Rebellion campaigners – mainly featuring an impressive samba band – marching from the camp at Marble Arch to the Oxford Circus occupation today, April 18, 2019. Most of Oxford Street was closed to traffic, like so many roads in central London, including Waterloo Bridge (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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Well, this is getting interesting. On Monday, when the environmental protest group Extinction Rebellion began its occupation of five sites in central London — Parliament Square, Waterloo Bridge, Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus and Marble Arch — I wasn’t sure that the ongoing intention of crashing the system through mass arrests, and waking people up to the need for change by disrupting their lives was going to work. 

I’d taken an interest when Extinction Rebellion started in October — although I was still largely preoccupied by the occupation (and subsequent eviction) of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford — but I’d ended up thinking that, although they had secured significant media coverage, which was very helpful, and their ‘branding’ was extremely striking, this wasn’t going to be enough. 

I was somewhat heartened when, in related actions, school kids — inspired by the 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg — got involved in climate strikes, and I hope we’ll be seeing a lot more on that front, but on Monday I couldn’t see how Extinction Rebellion’s latest coordinated protests were going to work. The police seemed, for the most part, to be trying not to give the protestors what they wanted — mass arrests — and although the crowds I encountered at Parliament Square and Oxford Circus reminded me of aspects of social movements of the past — Reclaim the Streets and the road protest movement from the ’90s, the anti-globalisation movement of the late ’90s and early 2000s, and 2011’s Occupy movement — I couldn’t see how the movement was going to be able to take the next step, and to build the momentum necessary for significant change.

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Defend Julian Assange and WikiLeaks: Press Freedom Depends On It

Julian Assange, photographed after his arrest at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on Thursday April 10, 2019 (Photo: Henry Nicholls/Reuters).

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Last week, when Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, was dragged out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London after the Ecuadorian government withdrew the asylum it had granted to him after he sought shelter there in 2012, I was about to set off on a long weekend away, without computer access, and I only had time to write a few brief paragraphs about the significance of his case on Facebook.

I noted that his arrest “ought to be of great concern to anyone who values the ability of the media, in Western countries that claim to respect the freedom of the press, to publish information about the wrongdoing of Western governments that they would rather keep hidden.” 

I also explained, “Those who leak information, like Chelsea Manning” — who leaked hundreds of thousands of pages of classified US government documents to WikiLeaks, and is now imprisoned because of her refusal to testify in a Grand Jury case against WikiLeaks — “need protection, and so do those in the media who make it publicly available; Julian Assange and WikiLeaks as much as those who worked with them on the release of documents — the New York Times and the Guardian, for example.”

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It’s 700 Days Since I Started Posting Daily Photos From My Photo-Journalism Project ‘The State of London’

The most recent photos posted as part of my photo-journalism project ‘The State of London.’

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Check out all the photos here!

700 days ago, on May 11, 2017, I began posting a photo a day on a new Facebook page I’d set up, called ‘The State of London.’ It was five years to the day since I’d consciously embarked on a project that was very ambitious — or perhaps slightly unhinged would be a better description: to take photos of the whole of London by bike.

My plan was to visit all 120 postcodes — those beginning with EC, WC, E, SE, SW, W, NW and N — as well some of the outer boroughs, although when I started I had no concept of how big London is, and it took me until September 2014 to visit all 120 — and I still have only visited some of those furthest from my home in south east London on a few occasions.

Greater London covers 607 square miles; in other words, it is about 25 miles across from north to south and from east to west. It had a population of 8,174,000 at the 2011 census, divided amongst 32 boroughs, and, although it has only a small resident population, the City of London, which, rather shockingly, is in most ways actually an autonomous state.

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How the US Fell for Chinese Lies Regarding the Uighurs at Guantánamo, and Why the Uighurs Need Our Support

A cross-post, with my own detailed introduction, of an article by Richard Bernstein for the Atlantic about how the Bush administration overrode its own considered assessments to support the Chinese government's false description of the Uighurs, an oppressed minority from north west China, as terrorists, in relation to 22 Uighurs who had ended up at
An undated photo of supporters of China’s oppressed Uighur people protesting outside the White House about the imprisonment of Uighurs at Guantánamo. The last of the prison’s Uighurs were freed in 2013, but nowadays the Uighurs are suffering from particularly harsh repression from the Chinese government, with at least a million Uighurs arbitrarily imprisoned in internment camps (Photo: futureatlas.com/flickr).

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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

Thanks to the Atlantic, and Richard Bernstein, former foreign correspondent for Time and the New York Times, for revisiting the story of Guantánamo’s Uighurs, the ethnic group in the prison who were most transparently unconnected to the anti-American activities of Al-Qaeda.

The timing of Bernstein’s article, ‘When China Convinced the U.S. That Uighurs Were Waging Jihad,’ is evidently intended — and with good reason — to highlight the terrible situation faced by the UIghurs, a Turkic group from Xinjiang province in north western China, who are currently facing the harshest clampdown by the Chinese government in a long history of oppression, with at least a million Uighurs “arbitrarily detained in internment camps in Xinjiang, where they are forced to undergo political indoctrination,” as the Guardian explained in November 2018, after the United Nations’ Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (the first to study China since 2013) had condemned China for its deteriorating human rights record. As Vox explained, Western governments “had the harshest words for China,” with the US chargé d’affaires Mark Cassayre demanding that China “abolish all forms of arbitrary detention” for Uighurs and other Muslim minorities, and calling on the government to  “release the ‘possibly millions’ of individuals detained there.”

Bernstein’s article focuses on how the Bush administration — shamefully — reversed its opinion about the Chinese government’s oppression of the Uighurs in 2002, to justify its imprisonment of 22 Uighur prisoners at Guantánamo, some of whom spent a total of 12 years in US custody, despite it having been obvious to anyone actually paying attention to their cases that, as many of the Uighurs themselves explained, they had only one enemy — the Chinese government — and had no animosity whatsoever towards the US.

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Rare Words From Guantánamo, From “Forever Prisoner” Ghassan Al-Sharbi

The perimeter fence at Guantánamo, photographed on March 6, 2013 (Photo: Bob Strong/Reuters).

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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

When the prison at Guantánamo Bay was set up by the Bush administration, over 17 long years ago, the intention was to hide the men held from any kind of outside scrutiny, an intention reflected within the prison, where the prisoners were dehumanized, identified not by name but by what were known as Internment Serial Numbers (ISNs). The ISN system persists to this day, with the 40 men still held after first George W. Bush, and then Barack Obama, shrank the prison’s population to just 5% of the total number of men held since it first opened.

In addition, the effort to hold the men in a permanent state of dehumanization — to prevent any serious form of outside scrutiny — also persists. It is only because the Supreme Court granted the prisoners habeas corpus rights in 2004 that the men were finally allowed to have lawyers visit them, breaking through the shroud of total secrecy that had previously enveloped the prison, and that had allowed horrendous torture and abuse to take place in its first few years of operations.

Of the 40 men still held, most are unknown to the general public. The most prominent are the seven men facing seemingly interminable pre-trial hearings in the broken military commission system, but few people know who most of the others are — five men approved for release under Barack Obama, but still held, and 26 others, accurately described as “forever prisoners” by the mainstream media, whose ongoing imprisonment was recommended by Obama administration officials who reviewed all the prisoners’ cases after Obama took office, and decided that they were too dangerous to release, while conceding that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial.

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Supporting Whistleblower Chelsea Manning, Imprisoned for Refusing to Testify in Grand Jury Case Against WikiLeaks

Chelsea Manning, in a photo from a fashion shoot for Dazed on February 12, 2019, just 24 days before she was imprisoned for refusing to testify in a Grand Jury case against WikiLeaks.

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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

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.

It’s three weeks since Chelsea Manning was imprisoned for refusing to testify in a Grand Jury case against WikiLeaks, and I wanted to make sure that I expressed my solidarity with her, as, without her contributions to breaking through the US government’s deliberate secrecy surrounding the prisoners held at Guantánamo, we would know far less than we do about how weak so much of the so-called evidence is that has been used to defend the imprisonment without charge or trial of the men — and boys — held at Guantánamo without charge or trial since the disgraceful prison opened in January 2002.

It was while working as an intelligence analyst for the US Army in Iraq, in 2009, that Manning leaked to WikiLeaks nearly 750,000 classified — or unclassified but sensitive — US military and diplomatic documents, including the “Collateral Murder” video, featuring footage of a US Army helicopter gunning down a group of unarmed civilians in Iraq, including two Reuters journalists, the Afghan and Iraq war logs, a vast number of US diplomatic cables from around the world, and the classified military files from Guantánamo.

I worked as a media partner with WikiLeaks on the release of these documents in April 2011, and as I stated in an article in January 2017, when President Obama commuted the 35-year sentence that Manning had received after her court-martial in 2013:

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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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