Archive for June, 2020

COVID-19 and the Economic Meltdown: Was Global Tourism the Only Thing Keeping Us Afloat?

Grounded planes in Alabama, March 25, 2020 (Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters).

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Three months since the arrival of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 prompted an unprecedented lockdown on human interaction and on huge swathes of our economy, the primary objective — preventing our hospitals and morgues from being overwhelmed — has been achieved. The cost — economically, and, in some cases, psychologically — has been enormous, but the road ahead, as those in charge attempt to revive a functioning economy, looks like it will be even more arduous.

No congratulations should be extended to Boris Johnson and his government for the achievements of the lockdown. Johnson dithered for far too long at the beginning of the crisis, and the deaths of tens of thousands of people are, as a result, his responsibility, although not his responsibility alone, as the last few months have also shown us that, sadly, this empty windbag of a Prime Minister is largely manipulated by his senior adviser, the sneering eugenicist Dominic Cummings.

Both men were initially prepared to allow the virus to spread unchecked throughout the entire population, with people required to “take it on the chin”, as they let it “move through the population”, as Johnson explained in a now notorious TV appearance. It was only when medical experts pointed out the potential death toll of the “herd immunity” scenario that the lockdown began, following similar conclusions that were, in most other countries, reached rather earlier in the virus’s spread.

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Military Judge Rules That Terrorism Sentence at Guantánamo Can Be Reduced Because of CIA Torture

Guantánamo prisoner Majid Khan, in a photo taken at the prison in 2018, and the military commissions judge, Army Col. Douglas K. Watkins, who has ruled that his sentence, based on a plea deal agreed in 2012, can be reduced because he was tortured in “black sites” by the CIA.

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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.

It’s been nearly two years since I last reported on the military commission trial system at Guantánamo, which is less an oversight than a tacit acknowledgement that the entire system is broken, a facsimile of justice in which the defense teams for those put forward for trials are committed to exposing the torture to which their clients were subjected in secret CIA “black sites,” while the prosecutors are just as committed to keeping that information hidden.

I’m pleased to be discussing the commissions again, however, because, in a recent ruling in the case of “high-value detainee” Majid Khan, a judge ruled that, as Carol Rosenberg described it for the New York Times, “war court judges have the power to reduce the prison sentence of a Qaeda operative at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as a remedy for torture by the CIA.”

When I last visited the commissions, the chief judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, who had also been the judge on the case of the five men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks since the men were arraigned in May 2012, had just caused a stir by ruling that confessions obtained by so-called “clean teams” of FBI agents, after the men were moved to Guantánamo from the CIA “black sites” where their initial confessions were obtained through the use of torture, would not be admitted as evidence. In a second blow, he announced his resignation.

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Thoughts on the Summer Solstice – and Video of The Four Fathers’ Set for the Virtual Stonehenge Free Festival

A lonely Stonehenge on the summer solstice 2020, and The Four Fathers playing a solstice set for the Virtual Stonehenge Free Festival.

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Normally, for the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, I write an article about Stonehenge, the ancient temple aligned on the solstices, discussing its long and contested history, and the crowds who have gathered there to celebrate the solstice sunrise. If this is of interest, then please feel free to check out my articles from 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019.

My fascination with Stonehenge dates back 37 years, to when I was a student and visited the Stonehenge Free Festival, in 1983, and subsequently in 1984 — visits that not only awakened in me an interest in ancient sacred sites, but also showed me the reality of an alternative lifestyle outside of the prevailing model of nuclear families in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain.

The festival, which had started in 1974, had grown to become a huge autonomous gathering that occupied the fields opposite Stonehenge for the whole of the month of June — and which has been accurately described as “a working exercise in collective anarchy” — until its violent suppression in 1985, when a convoy of travellers making their way to Stonehenge to set up what would have been the 12th festival were ambushed by 1,400 police from six counties and the MoD, and were then violently “decommissioned”, in one of the most shocking episodes of state brutality against unarmed men, women and children in modern British history, which has become known as the Battle of the Beanfield.

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Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ Ground-Breaking Decision in the Case of Former Guantánamo Prisoner Djamel Ameziane

Former Guantánamo Prisoner Djamel Ameziane and his response to a a recent and important decision taken by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), criticizing the US for his treatment during 12 years in US custody (Image by the Center for Justice and International Law).

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’ve had a busy few weeks, and haven’t been able, until now, to address a recent and important decision taken by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in the case of Djamel Ameziane, an ethnic Berber from Algeria who was imprisoned at Guantánamo for nearly 12 years, from February 2002 to December 2013, after an initial two month’s imprisonment at Kandahar air base in Afghanistan. The IACHR is a key part of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mission is “to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere,” and whose resolutions are supposed to be binding on the US, which is a member state.

As his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) explained in a press release on May 28, the IACHR’s decision (available here) determined that the United States was “responsible for Mr. Ameziane’s torture, abuse, and decade-long confinement without charge,” and issued a series of recommendations — namely, that “the United States should provide ‘adequate material and moral reparations’ for the human rights violations suffered by Mr. Ameziane for his 12 years of confinement.”

As CCR added, “Some of these measures include the continuance of criminal investigations for the torture of Mr. Ameziane at Kandahar Airbase and Guantánamo Bay detention center; compensation for his years spent in arbitrary detention to address any lasting physical and psychological effects; medical and psychological care for his rehabilitation; and the issuance of a public apology by the United States president or any other high-ranking official to establish Mr. Ameziane’s innocence.”

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No Justice, No Peace on the Third Anniversary of the Grenfell Tower Fire

The Grenfell Silent Walk on December 14, 2017, commemorating those who died in the fire that engulfed Grenfell Tower in west London six months earlier, on June 14, 2017. The Silent Walks took place every month until the coronavirus lockdown hit.

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Since the very public murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis three weeks ago, there has been a welcome and understandable resurgence of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement that first surfaced back in 2014, after a spate of police murders of unarmed black men and boys in the US.

Today, as we remember the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower in west London, which occurred exactly three years ago, the resurgence of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement seems entirely appropriate. 

72 people died in an inferno that engulfed the 1970s tower block they lived in in North Kensington, an inferno that was caused, primarily, because the structural integrity of the building had been lethally compromised by a re-cladding operation designed to make the tower look more “attractive” — not only had existing windows not been repaired or replaced to make sure that they were fireproof, but the re-cladding involved holes being drilled all over the tower that, on the night that the fire broke out, allowed it to consume the entire tower is an alarmingly short amount of time.  

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Never Forget: The “Season of Death” at Guantánamo

Four of the five prisoners who died at Guantánamo between May 30 and June 9 in 2006, 2007 and 2009, hence my description of it as the “season of death.” The top row shows Yasser al-Zahrani and Ali al-Salami, two of the three men who died on the night of June 9, 2006. No photo exists of the third man, Mani al-Utaybi. The bottom row shows the only photo of Abdul Rahman al-Amri, who died on May 30, 2007, and Mohammed al-Hanashi (Muhammad Salih), who died on June 1, 2009. All the deaths were described by the authorities as suicides, but these claims are disputed.

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There are days in your life when events take place and everyone remembers where they were. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 are one example; and, depending on your age, others might be the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the moon landing, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Nelson Mandela being freed from prison, and the “shock and awe” of the opening night of the illegal invasion of Iraq.

One of those occasions for me is June 10, 2006, when it was reported that three prisoners at Guantánamo had died, allegedly by committing suicide — two Saudis, Yasser al-Zahrani, who was just 18 when he arrived at Guantánamo, and Mani al-Utaybi, and Ali al-Salami, a Yemeni. The authorities’ response was astonishingly insensitive, with Rear Adm. Harry Harris, the prison’s commander, saying, “This was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetric warfare committed against us.”

While it remains deeply shocking to me, 14 years on, that suicide could be described as an act of war, this was not the only problem with the authorities’ response to the deaths. The Pentagon’s PR machine swiftly derided the men as dangerous terrorists, even though none of them had been charged or tried for any offence. In fact, one of them, Mani al-Utaybi, had been approved for transfer back to his home country — although the authorities were unable to say whether or not he had been informed of this fact before he died.

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Lockdown Fundraiser: Seeking $2500 (£2000) to Support My Guantánamo Work and My Photo-Journalism Project, ‘The State of London’

Andy Worthington calling for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo outside the White House on January 11, 2020, the 18th anniversary of the prison’s opening, and a section of photos from the coronavirus lockdown in London, as featured on Andy’s Facebook page ‘The State of London.’

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, and/or for my London photo-journalism project ‘The State of London’.





 

Dear friends and supporters,

Every three months I ask you, if you can, to support my ongoing journalism and activism — mostly on Guantánamo — and my photo-journalism, via my project ‘The State of London’, for which I have no institutional backing. As a very modern version of a freelance journalist, I’m reliant on you, my supporters, to support my work via donations if you like what I do and are able to help.

This is a long-standing arrangement, and it largely arose because there was no room for someone like me in the mainstream media, which didn’t want an expert on Guantánamo writing relentlessly about the prison, the men held there, and why it needs to be closed, and who, in general, dismiss people who are relentlessly dedicated to important causes as “activists” rather than journalists. This is a distinction that I don’t find valid, which serves to largely sideline writers who burn with indignation at injustices in favour of those who embrace “objectivity” — and sadly it tends only to end up supporting the status quo.

On Guantanamo, I have doggedly sought its closure for 14 years now, and have no intention of giving up while it remains open, because its very existence is such a legal, ethical and moral abomination. Your support for my relentless persistence regarding this hugely important but almost entirely forgotten topic is very greatly appreciated.

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Elizabeth Warren and 14 Other Senators Ask Pentagon About Coronavirus Protections at Guantánamo

Six of the 15 Senators who have written to defense secretary Mark Esper to ask what protections are being provided to prisoners and US personnel at Guantánamo in response to the coronavirus crisis. Top row, L to R: Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Dianne Feinstein. Bottom row, L to R: Dick Durbin, Patrick Leahy, Cory Booker.

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.

The prisoners at Guantánamo Bay — held, for the most part, without charge or trial for over 18 years now — have rarely had the support they should have received from the various branches of the U.S. government — the executive branch, Congress and the judiciary — considering how outrageous it is for prisoners of the U.S. to be held in such fundamentally unjust conditions.

Since Donald Trump became president, of course, any pretence of even caring about this situation has been jettisoned. Trump loves Guantánamo, and is happy for the 40 men still held to be imprisoned until they die, and he hasn’t changed his mind as a new threat — the novel coronavirus, COVID-19 — has emerged.

Last week, however, representatives of another group of people with a long history of not doing much for the prisoners — lawmakers — sent a letter to defense secretary Mark T. Esper calling for clarification regarding what, if anything, the Pentagon is doing to “prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic among detainees in the prison facility at the United States Naval Station Guantánamo Bay, Cuba (Guantánamo), as well as efforts to protect service members responsible for detention operations and all other military personnel at the base.”

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It’s 35 Years Since the Battle of the Beanfield; Where Do We Go Now?

Police swarming around the last bus to be violently “decommissioned” at the Battle of Beanfield, on June 1, 1985.

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Today is the 35th anniversary of the Battle of the Beanfield; actually, a one-sided rout of heartbreaking brutality in a field in Wiltshire, when 1,400 police from six counties and the MoD violently “decommissioned” a convoy of 400 travellers trying to get to Stonehenge to establish what would have been the 12th annual Stonehenge Free Festival, a huge autonomous settlement, numbering tens of thousands of people, that occupied the fields by Stonehenge for the whole of the month of June, and that had become a target for violent suppression by Margaret Thatcher.

My book The Battle of the Beanfield, published to mark the 20th anniversary of the Battle of the Beanfield, is still in print, so please feel free to order a copy. Also available: Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion, my counter-cultural history of Stonehenge.

Thatcher had spent 1984 crushing one group of citizens described as the “enemy within” — the miners — while also paving the way for the next “enemy within” to be crushed — the travellers, anarchists and environmental and anti-nuclear activists who made up the convoy attempting to get to Stonehenge when they were ambushed, and then crushed after they sought refuge in a bean field off the A303.

Elements of the convoy had been violently set upon by police in the summer of 1984, at Nostell Priory in Yorkshire, and in February 1985, activists and travellers who had established a settlement at RAF Molesworth in Cambridgeshire (the second proposed site for cruise missiles after Greenham Common in Berkshire, the site of the famous women’s peace camp) were evicted by the largest peacetime mobilisation of troops in modern British history, symbolically led by Thatcher’s right-hand man and defence secretary, Michael Heseltine.

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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