Can We Have A Discussion About Releasing the Majority of the Guantánamo Prisoners?

With the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo now entering its third month, conditions at the prison have come under sustained scrutiny for the first time in many years, and media outlets, both domestic and international, have learned, or have been reminded that 166 men remain at the prison.

These men remain imprisoned despite President Obama’s promise to close Guantánamo, which he made when he first took office in January 2009, and despite the fact that over half of them — 86 in total — were cleared for release from the prison in 2009 by an inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, established by the President to decide who should be freed and who should continue to be held.

For those of us who understand that Guantánamo will poison America’s moral standing as long as it remains open, the awakening or reawakening of interest in the prison — and the prisoners — is progress, although there is still some way to go before President Obama or lawmakers understand that they need to release prisoners, or face the very real prospect that everyone still held at Guantánamo will remain there until they die, even though the overwhelming majority have never been charged with any crime, and never will be. Read the rest of this entry »

America’s Disappeared

Injustices do not become any less unjust the longer they are not addressed, and when it comes to the “war on terror” launched by President Bush following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, those injustices continue to fester, and to poison America’s soul.

One of those injustices is Guantánamo, where 166 men are still imprisoned, even though 86 of them were cleared for release by a task force established by the President four years ago, and another is Bagram in Afghanistan (renamed and rebranded the Parwan Detention Facility), where the Geneva Conventions were torn up by George W. Bush, and have not been reinstated, and where foreign prisoners seized elsewhere and rendered to US custody in Afghanistan remain imprisoned. Some of these men have been held for as long as the men in Guantánamo, but without being allowed the rights to be visited by civilian lawyers, which the men in Cuba were twice granted by the Supreme Court  — in 2004 and 2008 — even if those rights have now been taken away by judges in the Court of Appeals in Washington D.C., demonstrating a susceptibility to the general hysteria regarding the “war on terror,” rather than a desire to bring justice to the men in Guantánamo.

Another profound injustice — involving the kidnapping of prisoners anywhere in the world, and their rendition to “black sites” run by the CIA, or to torture dungeons in other countries — also remains unaddressed. Read the rest of this entry »

Shops, Flags and the BBC: Photos of Regent Street in September

BBC HQThe BBC's new facadeInside the BBC's new HQInside the BBC: the lift shaft and the atriumRegent Street and the Olympic flagsAll Souls Church, Langham Place
The University of WestminsterRegent Street building siteBoarded upOxford CircusOxford Street and Regent Street, looking south eastOxford Street and Regent Street, looking north west
Weird window displayRegent Street and Oxford Street, looking northThe temple of AppleRegent Street, looking southFlags of the worldAmerican nostalgia
Branding the environmentThe hunters and the huntedSomething for the homeQuadrant ArcadeBike

Shops, Flags and the BBC: Regent Street in September, a set on Flickr.

Back in December, I promised to publish five photo sets from the 1,700 photos from September that I hadn’t had the time to make available at that time (out of the 7,300 photos of London that I have taken since last July, which are still unpublished — compared to the 1,500 I have already made available). I published three sets, Blue Skies and Golden Light: The River Thames in September, Top of the World: Nunhead Allotments, and the View from the Hill-Top Reservoir and Memories of Summer: Photos of the Thames Festival on London’s South Bank, and then it was Christmas and New Year, and I wanted to post some seasonal photos, and then, in swift succession, I travelled to the US to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo on the 11th anniversary of its opening, and returned home to a rare snowy interlude, followed by a massive protest to save Lewisham Hospital from being butchered by the government and the management of the NHS, and a visit to Brighton for another Guantánamo event. I have also just begun to post photos from New York, taken as part of my US trip.

Consequently, the publication of the fourth of those five sets from September has been delayed — until now. Dating from September 10, this set records a journey I made down Regent Street from Broadcasting House, the BBC’s headquarters in Portland Place, after I was asked to be a guest of the BBC World Service, on the “Newshour” programme with Robin Lustig, to discuss the plans for the handover of Bagram prison in Afghanistan from US to Afghan control. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: Protestors Call for the Closure of Guantánamo outside the White House

Guantánamo protestors and the Washington MonumentPeace bikeFree Djamel AmezianeGuantánamo protestors and the White HouseGuantánamo protestors in front of the White HouseThe poet Luke Nephew calls for the closure of Guantánamo
Close Guantánamo: Black hoods, orange jumpsuits and the White HouseAndy Worthington calls for the closure of GuantánamoClose Guantánamo: Andy Worthington in front of the White HouseRamzi Kassem calls for the closure of Guantánamo in front of the White HouseRamzi Kassem calls for the closure of GuantánamoClose Guantánamo: Protestors outside the White House
Close Guantánamo: Two protestors outside the White HousePardiss Kebriaei and Leili Kashani at the "Close Guantánamo" protest outside the White HouseLeili Kashani calls for the closure of GuantánamoClose Bagram and GuantánamoInaugurate Justice, Close GuantánamoCruel, Inhuman and Degrading
Close Guantánamo: Witness Against Torture's White House protest166 orange ribbons and the White House

Protestors Call for the Closure of Guantánamo outside the White House, a set on Flickr.

These photos, following on from the previous set, capture some of the key images and the principled, decent and tireless campaigners for justice involved in the protest in Washington D.C. on January 11, 2013 to mark the 11th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and to call on President Obama to fulfil the promise he made to close the prison when he took office in January 2009, or be remembered as a failure, who succumbed to political expediency and settled for a path of cowardice rather than confronting his political opponents, both in the Republican Party and in his own party, and doing what needed to be done.

This, of course, involved the still-pressing need to restore some semblance of justice in the wake of the horrors inflicted on the law, on America’s reputation, and on hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in the so-called “war on terror,” but instead of addressing the issues, President Obama has expanded the US government’s drone program of extrajudicial assassinations, and has failed those in Guantánamo — especially the 86 men (out of 166 still held in total), who were cleared for release by the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established after taking office in 2009. The Task Force spent a year reviewing the prisoners’ cases before reaching its sober and considered conclusions, and, in addition, some of these men were actually cleared by military review boards under the Bush administration, some as long ago as 2004. Read the rest of this entry »

Eleven Years of Guantánamo: End This Scandal Now!

Eleven years ago, on January 11, 2002, the Bush administration proudly presented to the world one of its major responses to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 — a prison on the grounds of the US naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, designed to hold hundreds of men and boys seized in the “war on terror” that was declared in the wake of the attacks, where the prisoners were to be neither criminals not soldiers, but “enemy combatants” without any rights whatsoever.

The base was chosen because it was presumed to be beyond the reach of the US courts, and when the prisoners were deliberately excluded from the protections of the Geneva Conventions, in a directive issued by President Bush on February 7, 2002, it became a genuinely evil experiment, devoted to torture and other forms of coercion, indefinite detention without charge or trial, and the extraction of false statements from the prisoners that were then dressed up as evidence to justify holding them.

This was in spite of the fact that, for the most part, the prisoners knew nothing about Al-Qaeda or international terrorism, and were sold to US forces for bounty payments by their Afghan and Pakistani allies, or seized as a result of inept US intelligence. Many of the prisoners were living in Pakistan or visiting Pakistan, or were visiting Afghanistan as missionaries, humanitarian aid workers, refugees or economic migrants. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Andy Worthington Discusses the Horrors of Guantánamo at Aafia Siddiqui Protest in London

On Sunday, in torrential rain, I cut short a dry afternoon in the Catford Bridge Tavern — a formerly notoriously rough pub reborn after its recent takeover by the Antic group, which is spacious, friendly, well-decorated, and which also does excellent food, including Sunday roasts — to take my bike on the train to Charing Cross, and, from there, to cycle up to Piccadilly and through Mayfair to Grosvenor Square, to speak at a protest outside the US Embassy to mark the second anniversary of the sentencing, in a court in New York, of Aafia Siddiqui.

The story of Aafia Siddiqui, which I have been covering for many years, remains one of the most disturbing in the whole of the Bush administration’s brutal “war on terror.” A Pakistani neuroscientist, she is currently two years into a horrendously unjust 86 year sentence in a prison hospital in Texas for allegedly having tried and failed, in August 2008, to shoot a number of US soldiers who were holding her in Ghazni, Afghanistan. This followed her resurfacing after a mysterious five and a half year absence, in which many people believe she was held in one or more secret CIA “black sites,” where she was severely abused and lost her mind.

Although the turnout for the protest, organised by the Justice for Aafia Coalition, was only moderate, numbers were swelled by the many thousands of people who had turned up for a protest about the terrible racist and Islamophobic video, “The Innocence of Muslims,” which, to my mind, like all examples of bigotry, is best ignored, to avoid providing the oxygen of publicity to those peddling such filth. However, the organisers of the Aafia Siddiqui protest were presented with an excellent opportunity to inform numerous people about the plight of Dr. Siddiqui, which was obviously useful. Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington Discusses Bagram on the BBC World Service, and 9/11 and Guantánamo with Scott Horton

This week the legacy of George W. Bush’s “war on terror” is under the spotlight, as is the response to it of his successor, Barack Obama. Tomorrow is the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that first prompted George W. Bush and his administration to discard all domestic and international laws and treaties regarding the treatment of prisoners, and to hold those seized in its “war on terror” not as prisoners of war, according to the Geneva Conventions, nor as criminal suspects, but as “enemy combatants,” who could, the administration contended, be held without them having any rights whatsoever.

Today is also significant for the fallout from the first war on which the Bush administration embarked — the invasion of Afghanistan, which began a month after the 9/11 attacks. As has been extensively reported, this morning US officials handed over formal control of the Parwan Detention Facility, the replacement for the notorious Bagram prison, where several prisoners were killed in the early days of the “war on terror,” to Afghan control.

This morning I was delighted to be asked by the BBC World Service to comment on the Bagram handover on the “Newshour” program with Robin Lustig, which was live at 1 pm, but is repeated regularly, and is available online. Although it was announced that the US had transferred 3,082 prisoners to Afghan control since reaching an agreement in March, I was particularly interested in commenting about those still held by the US, including recently captured prisoners, who will not be handed over until the US has screened them, and, more particularly, the foreign prisoners — thought to number around 50 — who will continue to be held by the US. Read the rest of this entry »

I’m Off to WOMAD, Back on Monday: Please Listen to Me Discussing Bagram on the Radio with Scott Horton

Every year, on the last weekend in July, WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance), the world music festival, takes place in the UK — for the last few years, in Wiltshire, on a wonderful site in Charlton Park — and this year is its 30th anniversary. My wife has been running children’s workshops there since 2002, and every year a group of us — friends and our kids — get to hang out together for four days, to do the workshops and create a wonderful sculpture for the children’s procession on the Sunday, to eat great food (unlike the kind of catering that will be in place for the Olympics), to watch great music, and to chill out backstage, and also in the backstage camp. My guitar is tuned, and I’m looking forward to some strumming and singing.

I’m back on Monday, but while I’m away, please check out the photos I’ve been posting regularly over the last month, if you haven’t yet seen them, beginning with yesterday’s excursion to the Olympic Park in the blazing sun — and see below for a bonus photo from Greenwich, which I took on my way back home. Click on the photo to enlarge it — and I’ve also just added it to the Olympics set on Flickr. Read the rest of this entry »

Bagram: Still a Black Hole for Foreign Prisoners

Back in March 2009, three foreign prisoners seized in other countries and rendered to the main US prison in Afghanistan, at Bagram airbase, where they had been held for up to seven years, secured a legal victory in the District Court in Washington D.C., when Judge John D. Bates ruled that they had habeas corpus rights; in other words, the right to challenge the basis of their imprisonment under the “Great Writ” that prevents arbitrary detention.

The men — amongst dozens of foreigners held in Afghanistan — secured their legal victory because Judge Bates recognized that their circumstances were essentially the same as the prisoners at Guantánamo, who had been granted habeas corpus rights by the Supreme Court in June 2008.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration appealed Judge Bates’ careful and logical ruling, and the judges of the D.C. Circuit Court agreed, overturning the ruling in May 2010, and returning the three men to their legal black hole.

In April 2011, the Associated Press reported that the three men — Redha al-Najar, a Tunisian seized in Karachi, Pakistan in May 2002; Amin al-Bakri, a Yemeni gemstone dealer seized in Bangkok, Thailand in late 2002; and Fadi al-Maqaleh, a Yemeni seized in 2004 and sent to Abu Ghraib before Bagram — had all been cleared for release by review boards at Bagram, or, as it is now known, the Parwan Detention Facility. Read the rest of this entry »

US in Talks to Return the 17 Afghan Prisoners in Guantánamo

Earlier this year, there was much discussion in the US media about the possibility that, as part of negotiations aimed at securing peace in Afghanistan, the US would release five high-level Taliban prisoners in Guantánamo to Qatar, where they would be held under a form of house arrest.

Those plans came to nothing, but last week the Associated Press reported that the Obama administration was “considering a new gambit to restart peace talks with the Taliban,” which would involve some — or all — of the 17 remaining Afghan prisoners still held in Guantánamo being transferred to Afghanistan, to be held in the Parwan Detention Facility near Bagram, the huge prison established to replace the original prison at Bagram, where several prisoners were killed in the early years of the “war on terror.”

As part of the Obama administration’s 2014 deadline for withdrawing forces from Afghanistan, the Parwan Detention Facility is scheduled to be transferred to Afghan control in September this year, and the fate of the remaining Afghans in Guantánamo is clearly part of the negotiations for all parties involved — the Taliban and the Karzai government, as well as the US. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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