Below is an open letter that has just been made available by 13 human rights organizations and lawyers’ groups calling for immediate action by President Obama and defense secretary Ashton Carter to secure the release of the 57 men still held at Guantánamo (out of the 122 men still held) who have been cleared for release — or approved for transfer, in the administration’s careful words. The signatories also call on the administration to try or release the other men, and to move towards the eventual closure of the prison, as President Obama first promised when he took office in January 2009.
The spur for the letter, which I initiated on behalf of Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker, is the second anniversary of President Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, after Congress raised legislative obstacles, which he made in a major speech on national security issues on May 23, 2013.
Also of great relevance is the arrival in Washington, D.C. today of a British Parliamentary delegation calling for the release and return to the UK of one of the 57, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison. The four MPs involved are the Conservative MPs David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, and the Labour MPs Andy Slaughter and Jeremy Corbyn, who are part of the cross-party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, and they will be meeting administration officials and Senators to try to secure a timeline for Shaker Aamer’s release. Read the rest of this entry »
POSTSCRIPT 11 May 2015: At the General Election on 7 May, 13 of the 41 MPs supporting the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group lost their seats. Seven others had announced their retirement as MPs before the election. These changes are noted in brackets after the MPs’ names. Now the election is over, please ask your MPs to join the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, if they have not done so already.
On Sunday, I wrote about the recently convened Parliamentary debate, on Tuesday March 17 at 4.30pm, for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, and asked British readers to write to their MPs (via a letter you can cut and paste, or amend as you see fit) to ask them to take part in the debate, and to join the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, chaired by John McDonnell MP.
I now have updated information. Shaykh Suliman Gani, a friend of Shaker’s family, has secured the support of the family for an important event on the morning of March 17 — the handing-in of Amnesty International’s petition for Shaker (signed by nearly 32,000 people) to 10 Downing Street at 11am. Saeed Siddique, Shaker’s father-in-law, will be there, along with his brother-in-law, and, hopefully, all three of Shaker’s sons as well.
In the late morning, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign will be holding a vigil in Parliament Square, and then, at 12.30, supporters will make their way into the Houses of Parliament for a rally organised by John McDonnell MP in Committee Room 11, with speakers including the journalists Andy Worthington (the co-founder of We Stand With Shaker) and Yvonne Ridley, Joy Hurcombe of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, Aisha Maniar of the London Guantánamo Campaign and the neurologist and human rights campaigner Dr. David Nicholl. Then, at 2pm, there will be a Green Card Lobby in the central lobby of the Houses of Parliament, where constituents will have the opportunity to meet their MPs before the debate and to brief them on Shaker’s case, before the Parliamentary debate at 4.30, to which supporters of Shaker are invited. Read the rest of this entry »
Nine human rights groups in the UK are boycotting the official British inquiry into the treatment of “detainees” in the “war on terror” and the UK’s involvement in rendition, “grievously undermining the controversial inquiry,” as the Guardian described it.
The nine groups, who have written a critical letter to Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, stating that they “do not propose to play a substantive role in the conduct of [the] inquiry,” are Amnesty International, the AIRE Centre (Advice on Individual Rights in Europe), Cage (formerly Cageprisoners), Freedom from Torture (formerly the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture), JUSTICE, Liberty, Redress, Reprieve and Rights Watch (UK).
Britain’s treatment of prisoners and its involvement in rendition was a matter of concern to Conservative MP William Hague when he was the shadow foreign secretary, prior to the Tories forming a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats in May 2010. Hague seemed genuinely appalled by what had taken place since 9/11 — a litany of broken laws and human rights abuses, including, most noticeably, the torture of Binyam Mohamed, whose case had reached the High Court in 2008, causing embarrassment to both the UK and US governments. Read the rest of this entry »
Recently, I was delighted to be asked to take part in an event organised by UCLU Amnesty International Society, entitled, “Why Did I Become An Activist?” which takes place next Tuesday. Details are below.
As the group states on the Facebook page for the event, “Unsure about how human rights relates to you? Want to take action but uncertain where to start? Come along to our ‘Why Should I Be An Activist?’ event. With speakers from a range of backgrounds, this will be an evening of talks and discussions aimed at guiding us, as students, through the first steps of becoming activists in our own right.”
I was pleased to have my work on Guantánamo and related issues as an independent investigative journalist and commentator recognised, and I hope I will be able to provide some young people with examples of the many ways to undertake journalism in the internet age, and also why we need campaigning journalists, and not just those working for the mainstream media, in which, far too often, the many injustices of the world are not adequately addressed, because of an obsession with “objectivity” (not shared by right-wing media outlets) and a refusal to accept that — sometimes, at least — campaigning ought to be part of the mainstream media’s job. Read the rest of this entry »
Dennis Edney, Omar Khadr’s long-term Canadian civilian lawyer, has been in the UK since last week, on a tour organised by the London Guantánamo Campaign, so I’m posting details of his speaking events for anyone who has not yet heard him talk, and also to notify readers, supporters of Omar Khadr and opponents of Guantánamo that I’ll be joining Dennis at an event in Amnesty International’s Human Rights Action Centre in Shoreditch tomorrow evening. To support Dennis’s ongoing and extensive legal costs, please visit this page, and to support the costs of the UK tour, please see here.
Regular readers will know that I have been covering Omar’s story since I first began working on Guantánamo eight years ago. I wrote about him in my book The Guantánamo Files, and when I began writing articles on a full-time basis, in June 2007, Omar’s was one of the first cases that I addressed, when he was charged in the second version of the Bush administration’s troubled military commissions, after the first version was thrown out by the US Supreme Court for violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions — and, specifically, Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits torture and humiliating and degrading treatment, and requires any trials to be in “a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.”
Omar, of course, never received such protections, even when the commissions were revived with Congressional approval, or when, under President Obama, they were brought back for a second time. In the end, to be assured of ever leaving Guantánamo, he accepted a plea deal in October 2010, admitting to war crimes that had been invented by Congress, and, moreover, providing a permanent stain on the reputation of President obama, who not only allowed a plea deal based on invented war crimes to take place, but did so to a former child prisoner (just 15 when he was seized after a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002), even though, according to the the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, to which both the US and Canada are signatories, juvenile prisoners (those under 18 when their alleged crimes take place) must be rehabilitated rather than punished. Read the rest of this entry »
Two weeks ago, I wrote about how, for the first time since his return to Canada from Guantánamo in September 2012, Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen and former child prisoner of the US, has been downgraded from a high-security risk to a medium-security risk, and moved for the maximum-security prison in which he had been held, in Edmonton, to the Bowden Institution in Alberta province, a medium-security facility with a minimum-security annex.
I also noted how this move “punctures the prevailing rhetoric — from the government, and in the right-wing press — that Khadr is a dangerous individual,” and, it should be noted, it also enables him to be able to apply for parole.
Neverthless, Ivan Zinger, the executive director of the independent Office of the Correctional Investigator (Canada’s prison ombudsman), is still critical of the position taken by the prison authorities. Last week, Colin Perkel of The Canadian Press reported that, in a letter to the Correctional Service of Canada’s senior deputy commissioner, Zinger wrote that the correctional authorities had “unfairly classified” Khadr, “even though they lowered his risk rating from maximum to medium security.” Read the rest of this entry »
Please sign and share the international petition calling for the release of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo.
If you’re anywhere near Leicester on Saturday, February 15, 2014, and can spare a fiver to hear me speak, I’m the keynote speaker at Amnesty International’s East Midlands Regional Conference, where I will be discussing the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which I have been researching and writing about for the last eight years.
Following my recent experiences discussing Guantánamo during my two-week “Close Guantánamo Now” US tour, I will be talking about the monstrous history of the prison, 12 years since it opened, and explaining what has happened over the last few years — primarily involving obstacles to the release of prisoners that were raised by Congress, President Obama’s refusal to bypass Congress, even though he had the power to do so, and the promises to resume releasing prisoners that President Obama finally made last year, after the prisoners had embarked on a huge hunger strike that led to severe criticism of his inaction.
The Amnesty International conference takes place at the Friends Meeting House, 16 Queens Road, Leicester, LE2 1WP. It begins at 9.30am and runs until 5pm, and I’ll be speaking at 2pm. Entry is £5 (or £4 for the unwaged). For further information, please contact Ben Ashby by email or on 07794 441189. Read the rest of this entry »
In the long search for accountability for the torturers of the Bush administration, which has largely been shut down by President Obama, lawyers and human rights activists have either had to try shaming the US through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, or have had to focus on other countries, particularly those that hosted secret CIA torture prisons, or had explicit involvement in extraordinary rendition.
Successes have been rare, but hugely important — the conviction of CIA officials and operatives in Italy, for the blatant daylight kidnap of Abu Omar, a cleric, on a street in Milan in February 2003, and the court victory in Macedonia of Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen kidnapped in Macedonia, where he had gone on a holiday, and sent to a CIA “black site” in 2003 until the US realized that his was a case of mistaken identity. In the UK, the whiff of complicity in torture at the highest levels of the Blair government led to pay-offs for the British nationals and residents sent to Guantánamo.
Court cases were also launched in Spain, although they were suppressed, in part because of US involvement (under President Obama), and currently there are efforts to hold the US accountable before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights for its use of Djibouti in a number of cases involving “extraordinary rendition” and “black sites.” Read the rest of this entry »
On Saturday January 11, 2014, a coalition of groups involved in campaigns calling for the closure of Guantánamo — including Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Witness Against Torture, World Can’t Wait, and my own group, the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, which I co-founded and run with the attorney Tom Wilner — met outside the White House in Washington D.C., in the pouring rain, to tell President Obama to revisit his failed promise to close the prison, to continue releasing cleared prisoners as a matter of urgency, including the Yemenis who make up the majority of the 77 cleared prisoners still held, and to bring justice to the 78 other men still held, either by putting them on trial or releasing them.
These are my photos of the day, and as well as including some of the speakers outside the White House, the set also includes photos of the march from the White House along Constitution Avenue to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, where, as I explained in an article for “Close Guantánamo,” featuring a 10-minute video of the day’s events by Ellen Davidson (including clips of me and Tom), which I’m also posting below, activists with Witness Against Torture staged a creative and powerful occupation of the museum, under the clever slogan, “Make Guantánamo History.” Read the rest of this entry »
As I spend Christmas with family, I recall that, on this Christian holiday, which commemorates the birth of Jesus — drawing on an older tradition of celebrating the winter solstice, and the beginning of the sun’s rebirth after the shortest day of the year — there are other people who are unable to be with their families, including the men in Guantánamo who have been the focus of my work for the last eight years.
In the lull between opening presents and enjoying Christmas dinner, I’m pleased to have the opportunity to make available a recent article from the Huffington Post by Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, whose lawyers represent 15 prisoners still held at Guantánamo, including Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison.
I have been writing about Shaker’s case for the last eight years, and will continue to do so until he is freed, as his ongoing imprisonment is a disgrace that ought to disturb the Christmas dinners of the most senior representatives of two governments — the US and the UK — because there is, simply put, no good reason why he is still held, and is not back in London with his family.
The only reason he is still held is because, as an eloquent, forthright and intelligent man, and the foremost defender of the prisoners’ rights since they were first seized, mostly in Afghanistan and Pakistan 12 years ago, he has come to know more than most of the prisoners about the crimes committed by US officials, operatives and military personnel, and the complicity in these crimes of other countries’ representatives, including, of course, the UK. Read the rest of this entry »
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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