Archive for October, 2020

Two Years Since the Violent Eviction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden, Lewisham Council’s Housing Policy Still Puts Profits Before People

A photo taken after the violent eviction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford on October 29, 2018 (Photo: Hat Vickers).

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Two years ago yesterday, a bold experiment in people power — the two-month occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden, a community garden in Deptford, in south east London, to prevent its destruction and inappropriate development as part of a profit-led housing project — came to a violent end when union-busting bailiffs from County Enforcement, hired by Lewisham Council, stormed the garden at dawn, terrorising the handful of campaigners camping overnight.

Throughout the day, as locals gathered to show their disgust at the heavy-handed tactics, a line of bailiffs, protected by a line of police, prevented anyone returning to the garden as the hired thugs began tearing down the garden’s structures and trees.

Like an invading army, they tore down the garden’s beautiful Indian bean trees, the brightly-painted tree house that stood next to it, and a beautiful shed made by campaigners from found materials, which had been used just weeks before as an exhibition space when the garden featured in the annual Deptford X arts festival. (For my article about the eviction, see The Violent Eviction of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden: Lewisham Councillors Make Sure They Will Never Be Welcome in Deptford Again, and also check out my archive of articles about Tidemill here, and this Corporate Watch report).

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Video: I Discuss the Guantánamo Files Released by WikiLeaks and Julian Assange’s Extradition Hearing with Action4Assange and Juan Passarelli

A screenshot of the Action4Assange show on October 17, 2020, featuring guests Andy Worthington and Juan Passarelli.

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On Saturday, I was delighted to take part in a wide-ranging discussion about my role as a witness in the hearings regarding WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s proposed extradition to the US, and the classified military files from Guantánamo that were released in 2011, on which I worked as a media partner.

The show — for the campaigning organization Action4Assange — was hosted by Steve Poikonen and Kendra Christian, and my fellow guest was Juan Passarelli, the filmmaker whose recent, 38-minute film about Assange, The War on Journalism: The Case of Julian Assange, I promoted in an article last week.

The show was streamed live, and recorded for YouTube. It starts around 12 and a half minutes in, and runs for nearly two hours, and you can check it out below.

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After Years in Secret Prisons, UAE Threatens Unsafe Repatriations to Yemen for Former Guantánamo Prisoners

Photos of 16 of the 18 Yemenis sent from Guantánamo to Yemen between 2015 and 2017, who were imprisoned instead of, as promised, being given new lives, and who are now being threatened with being sent back to Yemen, despite the dangers involved. The photos are taken from the classified military files from Guantánamo that were released by Wikileaks in 2011, and on which I worked as a media partner.

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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.

Depressing but important news about life after Guantánamo was published by the Associated Press on Wednesday, focusing on the appalling treatment that former Guantánamo prisoners have received since being resettled in the United Arab Emirates between November 2015 and January 2017, when President Obama left office; specifically, 18 Yemenis (out of 23 men in total sent to the UAE), who have now been told that the UAE is preparing to repatriate them, even though their lives may well be at risk in Yemen.

As reporter Maggie Michael described it, the prisoners “were promised they were being sent to a Muslim country for rehabilitation that would help integrate them into society, opening the way to jobs, money, and marriage, according to their lawyers and families. It was a lie.”

To anyone paying close attention, this wasn’t news. The Washington Post reported in May 2018 that former prisoners sent to the UAE after being unanimously approved for release by high-level US government review processes remain imprisoned, despite promises that their new host country would help them rebuild their lives. Missy Ryan’s story was entitled, “After over a decade at Guantanamo, these men were supposed to go free. Instead, they’re locked in a secretive center in the UAE.”

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Asadullah Haroon Gul: The Hunger Striking Afghan Forgotten at Guantánamo

Sehar Bibi, the mother of Guantánamo prisoner Asadullah Haroon Gul, at the refugee camp in Peshawar where she lives with her son’s wife and daughter, and other family members. Gul has been held at Guantánamo without charge or trial since 2007. (Photo: AFP/Abdul Majeed).

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Regular readers will recall the sad story of Asadullah Haroon Gul, one of the last two Afghans amongst the 40 men still held in the prison at Guantánamo Bay. In correspondence from Guantánamo this year, Gul has written about the coronavirus, about being a “no value detainee”, and about the murder by police of George Floyd and the resurgent Black Lives Matter movement.

As seems abundantly clear — to everyone except his captors — Gul, one of the last prisoners to arrive at Guantánamo, in June 2007, is a fundamentally insignificant prisoner whose ongoing imprisonment makes no sense. The US has quite nebulously alleged that he was involved with Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), led by the warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who had supported Al-Qaeda at the time of the US-led invasion. However, as I explained in July, “Gul very clearly had no meaningful connection with HIG, his involvement extending only to having lived, with his wife and family, in a refugee camp that HIG ran, but, as in so many cases of mistaken identity at Guantánamo, the US authorities didn’t care.”

To add insult to injury, Hekmatyar’s status has now changed. He reached a peace agreement with the Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, and at the start of this year a former Guantánamo prisoner with HIG associations, Hamidullah, was repatriated from the United Arab Emirates, where he had been sent with other Afghans in 2016, because of this agreement, surely undermining any efforts by the US to claim that Gul should still be held.

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Video: The War on Journalism – The Case of Julian Assange

The poster for ‘The War on Journalism: The Case of Julian Assange’, directed by Juan Passarelli, and released in August 2020, and a screenshot of Andy Worthington, one of the WikiLeaks experts interviewed for the film.

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.





 

In a prison cell in HMP Belmarsh, in south east London, which is supposedly reserved for the most violent convicted criminals in the UK, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks and a non-violent individual who has not been convicted of a crime, awaits a ruling regarding his proposed extradition to the United States, to face disgracefully inappropriate espionage charges related to his work as a publisher of classified US documents that were leaked by US soldier Chelsea Manning.

The first stage of hearings regarding Julian’s extradition took place in February, and were supposed to continue in May, but were derailed by the arrival of Covid-19. In February, I had submitted as evidence a statement in support of Julian, based on having worked with him as a media partner on the release of classified military files from Guantánamo in 2011. I expected to be questioned about my evidence in May, but, in the end, it wasn’t until September that the hearings resumed.

To coincide with the resumption of the hearings, a 38-minute film was released, “The War on Journalism: The Case of Julian Assange,” directed by filmmaker Juan Passarelli, for which I was interviewed, in the esteemed company of of John Pilger, UN torture rapporteur Nils Melzer, lawyers Jennifer Robinson and Renata Avila, Julian’s wife Stella Moris, journalists Barton Gellman, Margaret Sullivan, Iain Overton, Max Blumenthal and Matt Kennard, WikiLeaks’ editor in chief Kristin Hrafnsson, and Conservative MP David Davies.

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Guantánamo Voices: An Amazing Comic Book Version of the Guantánamo Story

The front cover of “Guantánamo Voices: True Accounts from the World’s Most Infamous Prison,” and a page from the chapter based on an interview with attorney Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, featuring the campaign to secure the release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, drawn by Kasia Babis, a Polish cartoonist and political activist.

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.

I have nothing but praise for “Guantánamo Voices: True Accounts from the World’s Most Infamous Prison,” a brand-new book, just published by Abrams, which was written by Portland-based multi-media journalist Sarah Mirk, and illustrated by a number of talented graphic artists.

I should say upfront that I was the fact checker for the book, having been in contact with Sarah for many years. In 2018, I appeared, in comic book form, illustrated by the Australian artist Jess Parker, in Guantánamo Bay is Still Open. Still. STILL!, a story in the comics anthology magazine The Nib, for which Sarah is an editor, based on an interview she had conducted with me in October 2017.

Previously, I had met Sarah in London in January 2009, when she came to the UK with former Guantánamo guard Chris Arendt for an extraordinary tour of the UK, also featuring former prisoner and British citizen Moazzam Begg (released in 2005) and other ex-prisoners, called “Two Sides, One Story,” which was organized by the advocacy group Cageprisoners (now CAGE).

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Radio: I Talk to Scott Horton About the Injustice of Julian Assange’s Extradition Case and the Importance of the Leaked Guantánamo Files

A supporter of Julian Assange outside the Old Bailey in London on October 1, 2020, the last day of his extradition hearing. The balloons were part of an initiative celebrating the 14th anniversary of the founding of WikiLeaks, on October 4.

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.





 

Last week, during the fourth and last week of hearings regarding the proposed extradition to the US of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, two statements I made in his defence (via the tireless Gareth Pierce and her colleagues) were read into the evidence at the Old Bailey in London. The two statements were subsequently made available by Antiwar.com — the first, from February, is here, and the second, made last week, is here. A decision on the extradition case is expected to be delivered by Judge Vanessa Baraitser on January 4, 2021.

It took a certain amount of to-ing and fro-ing in court to get my statements accepted, and for some time efforts were made to get me to testify in person, and to be cross-examined by the prosecutor, but — perhaps mercifully — the latter course of action didn’t eventually transpire, as the prosecutor, James Lewis, had, throughout the hearings, maintained “very systematic techniques of denigrating and browbeating” expert witnesses, according to the human rights activist (and former Ambassador) Craig Murray, who attended the hearings for the whole month.

My statements related to my work with WikiLeaks as a media partner on the release of classified military files from Guantánamo in 2011, in which I noted how much of the supposed evidence used to justify imprisonment at Guantanamo was, as I described it in my first statement, information extracted from “the Guantánamo prisoners’ fellow prisoners who had been subjected to torture or other forms of coercion either in Guantánamo or in secret prisons run by the CIA”, or information which was equally “unreliable because fellow prisoners had provided false statements to secure better treatment in Guantánamo.”

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Mohammed Al-Qahtani: Will Severe Mental Illness Secure His Release from Guantánamo?

Guantánamo prisoner Mohammed al-Qahtani, who is seeking release from the prison because of severe mental health issues that cannot be adequately addressed by Guantánamo staff. The text accompanying the photo describes his current mental state.

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.





 

For anyone seeking a single story that is emblematic of the horrors of Guantánamo, the story of Mohammed al-Qahtani ought to be instructive.

One of hundreds of prisoners seized in the chaos of Afghanistan after the US-led invasion in October 2001 and sent to Guantánamo after brutal treatment in US prisons in Afghanistan, al-Qahtani finally came to the attention of the US authorities in Guantánamo when it was assessed that he was the same man who had tried and failed to enter the US before the 9/11 attacks, and was presumed to have been intended to be the 20th hijacker.

He was then subjected to a horrible torture program, personally approved by then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, which lasted for several months in late 2002, and which, as Murtaza Hussain explained for the Intercept in April 2018, involved him being subjected to “solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, extreme temperature and noise exposure, stress positions, forced nudity, body cavity searches, sexual assault and humiliation, beatings, strangling, threats of rendition, and water-boarding.” On two occasions he was hospitalized with a dangerously low heart rate.

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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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