Don’t Forget the Hunger Strike at Guantánamo

It is now 119 days since the prison-wide hunger strike began at Guantánamo, and 12 days since President Obama delivered a powerful speech at the National Defense University, in which he promised to resume releasing prisoners. The process of releasing prisoners — based on the deliberations of an inter-agency task force established by President Obama in 2009, which concluded that 86 of the remaining 166 prisoners should be released — has been largely derailed, since August 2010, by Congressional opposition, but must resume if President Obama is not to be judged as the President who, while promising to close the prison, in fact kept it open, normalizing indefinite detention.

The obstacles raised by Congress consist primarily of a ban on the release of prisoners to any country where even a single individual has allegedly engaged in “recidivism” (returning to the battlefield), and a demand that the secretary of defense must certify that, if released to a country that is not banned, a prisoner will not, in future, engage in terrorism. Practically, however, the men are still held because of President Obama’s refusal to deal with this either by confronting Congress or by using a waiver in the legislation that allows him and the secretary of defense to bypass Congress and release prisoners if he regards it as being “in the national security interests of the United States.”

Monitoring the hunger strike — and pointing out that President Obama must keep his promises — are both hugely important, especially as the media, and people in general, may well lose interest after President Obama’s speech, and believe that, because he has made promises, those promises will inevitably come true. Read the rest of this entry »

From Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer Tells His Lawyer Disturbing Truths About the Hunger Strike

As part of my coverage of the huge, ongoing hunger strike at Guantánamo, I’m delighted to make available the full text of a statement (actually an affidavit) made by Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, based on a phone conversation that Clive had on March 29 with Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, whose story has been a focus of my work for many years. See here, here and here for reports made available to me by Shaker last year, and see here for an e-petition to the British government calling for renewed action to secure Shaker’s release — and here for an international petition.

As I have been reporting for many weeks (see here, here, here, here and here), the hunger strike began two months ago, in response to the renewed ill-treatment of the prisoners and their despair at ever being released, after President Obama promised to close the prison and then failed to do so, even though 86 of the remaining 166 prisoners — including Shaker — were cleared for release, at least three years ago, by an inter-agency task force that the President established shortly after taking office in 2009.

Shaker’s testimony, via Clive (and available here via Reprieve), adds important, and disturbing new information about the hunger strike, and the behavior of the authorities, as well as providing numbers — Shaker told Clive that there are “130 prisoners total on hunger strike in the whole prison,” and that, “Of the 66 prisoners in Camp V, 45 are recognized as being on strike, though more actually are doing it.” Read the rest of this entry »

At Guantánamo, Another Bleak Ramadan for 87 Cleared Prisoners Who Are Still Held

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January with 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.

On Friday, when the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began, 168 men still held in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba must have wondered if their long ordeal will ever come to an end. Now held for as long as the First and Second World Wars combined, these men — of whom only a handful are accused of any involvement with terrorism — have become scapegoats, the victims of a cowardly administration, a cynical Congress and fearful judges.

How else are we to explain the presence of 87 men whose release was approved by the Guantánamo Review Task Force, appointed by President Obama himself, when he took office in January 2009 and promised to close Guantánamo within a year? Consisting of around 60 representatives of the relevant government departments and the intelligence services, the Task Force concluded in its final report (PDF), issued in January 2010, that, of the 168 men still held, 33 should be tried and 46 should be held indefinitely without charge or trial, while the other 87 should be released.

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we are rigorously and implacably opposed to President Obama’s claim that it is acceptable to hold 46 men indefinitely without charge or trial, because it is fundamentally unjust to claim, as the administration does, that these 46 men represent a danger to the United States, even though there is insufficient evidence to put them on trial. What this means is that the so-called evidence is fatally tainted, produced through the use of torture, or other forms of coercion, and is therefore fundamentally unreliable. Read the rest of this entry »

EXCLUSIVE: Guantánamo Scandal: The 40 Prisoners Still Held But Cleared for Release At Least Five Years Ago

This investigative report is published simultaneously here, and on the website of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, which I established in January with 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.

One of the greatest injustices at Guantánamo is that, of the 169 prisoners still held, over half — 87 in total — were cleared for release by President Obama’s interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force. The Task Force involved around 60 career officials from various government departments and the intelligence agencies, who spent the first year of the Obama Presidency reviewing the cases of all the remaining prisoners in Guantánamo, to decide whether they should be tried, released, or, in some cases, held indefinitely without charge or trial. The Task Force’s final report is here (PDF).

Exactly who these 87 men are is a closely held secret on the part of the administration, which is unfortunate for those of us working towards the closure of Guantánamo, as it prevents us from campaigning as effectively as we would like for the majority of these men, given that we are not entirely sure of their status. Attorneys for the prisoners have been told about their clients’ status, but that information — as with so much involving Guantánamo — is classified.

However, through recent research — into the classified military files about the Guantánamo prisoners, compiled by the Joint Task Force at the prison, which were released last year by WikiLeaks, as well as documents made available by the Bush administration, along with some additional information from the years of the Obama administration — I have been able to establish the identities of 40 men — 23 Yemenis, and 17 from other countries — who, between 2004 and 2009, were cleared for release by the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo, by military review boards under the Bush administration, or by President Obama’s Task Force, and to identify the official documents in which these decisions were noted. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Tunisian Freed from Guantánamo Calls for the Return of His Compatriots

To mark the 10th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, both Al-Jazeera and the Guardian turned their attention to the fate of the five Tunisians still held in Guantánamo, who I wrote about almost exactly a year ago, after the unexpected fall of the dictator Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, and the beginning of the revolutionary movements in the Middle East.

At the time, seven Tunisians had left Guantánamo, to face a variety of fates. Two had been repatriated in 2007, although both had then been imprisoned following show trials, two others were in Italy, where they had been delivered from Guantánamo to face trials in November 2009, and three others had been resettled in early 2010 in three other countries — namely, Slovakia, Albania and Georgia.

Soon after the fall of Ben Ali, the interim Tunisian government announced an amnesty for all political prisoners, paving the way for the return of exiled members of the Islamist party Ennahdha, and also the release of 55-year old Abdallah Hajji (also identified as Abdullah bin Amor), the former Guantánamo prisoner who was still imprisoned after a show trial. It also transpired that the other returned and imprisoned ex-Guantánamo prisoner, Lotfi Lagha, had actually been freed under President Ben Ali in June 2010. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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