On Monday, after an exclusive interview with the Mail on Sunday, published the day before (which I wrote about here and here), both the BBC and ITV News ran interviews with Shaker Aamer, who, until October 30, when he was freed, was the last British resident in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
I am delighted to have played a part in securing Shaker’s release through ten years of writing about Guantánamo, and campaigning to get the prison closed, and, for the last eleven months of Shaker’s imprisonment, through the We Stand With Shaker campaign that I launched with the activist Joanne MacInnes last November.
I have also had the pleasure of meeting Shaker since his release, and was delighted to find that everything I had worked out about him from the reports that have emerged from Guantánamo and from those who know him — his eloquence, his intelligence and his implacable devotion to tackling injustice — was accurate, and this was also evident in his interview with Victoria Derbyshire for her morning show on BBC2, which I’m posting below via YouTube where it has already received over 55,000 views.
Note: Please be aware there are a few glitches in the video, where the sound and images are lost for a few seconds and there is only disturbing white noise. Read the rest of this entry »
The Mail on Sunday today featured the first interview conducted by Shaker Aamer since his release from Guantánamo six weeks ago, and below are excerpts dealing with his life from 1989 to February 2002, when he arrived at Guantánamo, providing information not previously discussed — in particular, about the circumstances of his visit to Afghanistan and his capture. As someone who campaigned for many years for his release — including in the last year with the We Stand With Shaker campaign I co-founded last November — it is wonderful to hear from him.
Speaking to David Rose, Shaker spoke about his experiences in the US after he left Saudi Arabia, where he was born in 1966, in Medina. From 1989 to 1995, he explained, as Rose noted, that he “lived mostly in Atlanta, in the US state of Georgia, working as a chef in restaurants. In those days he lived a Westernised life: a lover of rock music, he often attended concerts by his favourite bands — including AC/DC and Ozzy Osbourne. In this period, in 1990, he responded to a US army recruitment drive for Arabic/English translators during the first Gulf War — which is how he came to find himself working for the US infantry in Saudi.”
“First I was in the south, then at a base in Tabuk, near the Jordanian border,” Shaker said, explaining that he needed security clearance for the job. “Of course I had to be checked. I was right inside the US base. I got to know those guys very well, especially the colonel — his name was Johansen. Later, I used to tell my interrogators: call Colonel Johansen, he will tell you I’m not a terrorist, that I’m a good guy, and that I’m telling you the truth. I’m sure they never did.” Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday, just ten days after the announcement that Shaker Aamer is finally to be freed from Guantánamo and returned to his family, was quite a disturbing day for those of us who care about Shaker and his health, as the Mail on Sunday ran a seven-page feature on Shaker that centered on his lawyer Clive Stafford Smith’s report of his latest words from Guantánamo, via a recent phone call.
Shaker stated, as the Mail on Sunday put it, that “he is on a hunger strike in protest at an assault by guards, who, he says, forced him to give blood samples,” and that he is “still being subjected to brutal physical abuse” by the authorities, and he also expressed his fears that he will not make it out of Guantánamo alive. As he said in his own words: “I know there are people who do not want me ever to see the sun again. It means nothing that they have signed papers, as anything can happen before I get out. So if I die, it will be the full responsibility of the Americans.”
This is rather bleak, and it made those of us who worry about Shaker’s health very unsettled. In my conversations with people yesterday, we also reflected on how the news must have been very disturbing for Shaker’s family. However, it is not all darkness. In another key passage, not picked up by the headline writers, Shaker said, powerfully, in words that illuminate his passion for justice and the tenacity that so many of us have admired over the years, “I do not want to be a hero. I am less than a lot of people who suffered in this place. But all this time I stood for certain principles: for human rights, freedom of speech, and democracy. I cannot give up.” Read the rest of this entry »
For nine years, I’ve been following the story of Omar Khadr, the former child prisoner at Guantánamo, who was released on bail in Canada a month ago. I first wrote about Omar in my book The Guantánamo Files, which I wrote in 2006-07, and since then I’ve written 94 articles about him, watching as he was first put forward for a trial by military commission in June 2007, shortly after I started writing articles about Guantánamo on an almost daily basis, and writing a major profile of him in November 2007.
In 2008, I followed his pre-trial hearings in the military commissions (see here and here, for example), and watched in horror as videos of his profoundly insensitive interrogations by Canadian agents were released, and in October 2008 I wrote a detailed article about him based on the Bush administration’s refusal to recognize the rights of juvenile prisoners.
I then wrote about the Obama administration’s lamentable decision to charge Omar — again — in the revived military commissions, and watched as the pre-trial hearings unfolded, leading to one of the bleakest moments in the Obama presidency — the plea deal Omar agreed to, in order to leave Guantánamo, in which, to his eternal shame, President Obama allowed a former child to be prosecuted, in a war crimes trial, not for war crimes, but for having engaged in armed conflict with US soldiers during a war — something that has never been a war crime and never will be. Read the rest of this entry »
More good news regarding Guantánamo, as four Afghans have been released, and returned to Afghanistan in what US officials, who spoke to the New York Times, “are citing as a sign of their confidence in new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.”
The Times added, “Obama administration officials said they worked quickly to fulfil the request from Ghani, in office just three months, to return the four — long cleared for release — as a kind of reconciliation and mark of improved US-Afghan relations.”
The Times also noted that there is “no requirement that the Afghan government further detain the men” — Shawali Khan, 51 (ISN 899), Abdul Ghani, 42 (ISN 934), Khi Ali Gul, 51 (ISN 928) and Mohammed Zahir, 61 (ISN 1103) — adding that Afghanistan’s government-appointed High Peace Council also “requested the repatriation of the eight Afghans who are among the 132 detainees remaining at Guantánamo,” 63 of whom have been cleared for release. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week there was some good news from Bagram, in Afghanistan, bringing one of the many long injustices of the “war on terror” to an end, when Amin al-Bakri and Fadi al-Maqaleh, two Yemenis held without charge or trial since 2002 and 2003 respectively, were repatriated.
Al-Bakri, who is 44 or 45 years old and has three children, was a shrimp merchant and gemstone dealer, and was seized in Thailand on a business trip. Al-Maqaleh, who is 30 years old, was held at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq before being transferred to Bagram. The site of America’s main prison in Afghanistan from 2002 until its handover to the Afghan authorities in March 2013, Bagram (renamed the Parwan Detention Facility in 2009) also housed a secret CIA prison where al-Bakri and al-Maqaleh were held, and they continued to be held in a secretive US facility that was part of the Bagram/Parwan complex after the handover of Bagram to the Afghan government. According to the International Justice Network, which represents both men, they were also held in other “black sites” prior to their arrival at Bagram.
The men’s release follows years of legal wrangling. Despite official silence regarding the stories of the men held in Bagram’s “black site,” lawyers managed to find out about a number of the men held, including al-Bakri and al-Maqaleh, in part drawing on research I had undertaken in 2006 for my book The Guantánamo Files. Habeas corpus petitions were then submitted, for the two Yemenis, and for a Tunisian named Redha al-Najar, seized in Karachi, Pakistan in 2002, and Haji Wazir, an Afghan businessman seized in the United Arab Emirates, also in 2002. Read the rest of this entry »
Two weeks ago, lawyers for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, submitted a motion to the District Court in Washington D.C. asking a judge to order his release because of his profound mental and physical health problems. These were confirmed in a report by an independent psychiatrist, Dr. Emily A. Keram, who had been allowed to visit Shaker for five days in December, following a request by his lawyers last October.
I wrote about the motion in an article last week, entitled, “Gravely Ill, Shaker Aamer Asks US Judge to Order His Release from Guantánamo,” and I’m following up on that article by reproducing the passages in Dr. Keram’s report in which Shaker talked about the torture and abuse to which he was subjected in US custody, primarily in the prisons in Bagram and Kandahar in Afghanistan, following his capture in Afghanistan in late 2001. Also included are passages dealing with his 12 years of torture and abuse in Guantánamo, as well as passages dealing with his torture and abuse during his initial detention in Northern Alliance custody. Please note that the sub-headings are my own.
I’d like to thank my friend and colleague Jeff Kaye for posting most of these excerpts from Shaker’s testimony last week, in a widely-read article for Firedoglake entitled, “‘You are completely destroyed’: Testimony on Torture from Shaker Aamer’s Medical Report at Guantánamo,” and I hope I’m not treading on his toes by posting it again in the hope of reaching some readers who didn’t catch it the first time around. Read the rest of this entry »
This morning, I was interviewed on the BBC World Service’s “World Update” programme about Bagram prison in Afghanistan, and the latest news from the facility, in the long, drawn-out process of the US handing over control of the prison to the Afghan government. The show is here, it’s available for the next six days, and the section in which I’m interviewed begins at 27 minutes in, and lasts for four minutes.
The prison at Bagram airbase — America’s main prison in Afghanistan — was established in an old Soviet factory following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, and was a place of great brutality, where a handful of prisoners were murdered in US custody.
Used to process prisoners for Guantánamo until the end of 2003, it then grew in size throughout the rest of Bush’s presidency, and into President Obama’s. During this time, a new prison was built, which was named the Parwan Detention facility, but those interested in the prison, its violent history in US hands and its unenviable role as the graveyard of the Geneva Conventions refused to accept the rebranding. Read the rest of this entry »
Dear friends, I do hope you have time to read my first article for Al-Jazeera English, “It’s time to end the injustice of Guantánamo and Bagram,” in which, the day after the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I run through the story of America’s dreadful innovations in the wake of the attacks — with particular reference to Guantánamo, where 164 men remain, and Bagram in Afghanistan, where 67 non-Afghan prisoners are still held, despite the handover of the majority of the prisoners to the Afghan authorities.
In the article I point out how, by discarding the Geneva Conventions after 9/11, the Bush administration embraced indefinite detention without charge or trial, and also opened the floodgates to the use of torture. The latter was eventually curtailed (as official policy, at least), but the indefinite detention continues under President Obama, both at Guantánamo and Bagram, which is unacceptable policy under any circumstances.
I also point out how another baleful legacy of the Bush administration’s lawless policies is the largely worthless information masquerading as evidence, which is used to justify the ongoing imprisonment of the men at Bagram, and around half of the remaining men at Guantánamo. As I explain in the article: Read the rest of this entry »
Note: Please read the comments below for updates. As at 3pm GMT on June 1, there has been no confirmation of the releases. Sources in Mauritania are still saying the men have been freed, but are not yet reunited with their families, while the US authorities are denying it. Some reports claim that only the man from Bagram has been returned home.
Update June 2: It now appears clear that only the man in Bagram was returned, and that the human rights representative in Mauritania was mistaken about the releases from Guantánamo. This is very sad news, particularly for Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, who is one of the 86 prisoners still in Guantánamo who were cleared for release over three years ago by President Obama’s inter-agency task force, and who emphatically should have been freed. Further commentary to follow soon.
In news that has so far only been available in Arabic, and which I was informed about by a Mauritanian friend on Facebook, I can confirm that two prisoners from Guantánamo have been released, and returned to their home country of Mauritania. The links are here and here.
The two men are Ahmed Ould Abdul Aziz and Mohamedou Ould Slahi, and they were accompanied by a third man, Hajj Ould Cheikh Hussein, who was apparently captured in Pakistan and held at Bagram in Afghanistan, which later became known as the Parwan Detention Facility.
According to one of the Arabic news sources, US officials handed the men to the Mauritanian security services who took them to an unknown destination. They have also reportedly met with their families.
I have no further information for now, but this appears to be confirmation that President Obama’s promise to resume the release of prisoners from Guantánamo was not as hollow as many of his promises have turned out to be. It also follows hints, in the Wall Street Journal (which I wrote about here), indicating that he would begin not with any of the 56 Yemeni prisoners out of the 86 prisoners cleared for release by the inter-agency task force that he established in 2009, but with some of the 30 others. Read the rest of this entry »
Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. 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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