Video: “Songs of War,” an Al-Jazeera Film About Music Torture in Guantánamo, Afghanistan and Iraq

In a new film for Al-Jazeera, “Songs of War: Music as a Weapon,” the filmmaker Tristan Chytroschek follows “Sesame Street” composer Christopher Cerf on a journey to discover how his music came to be used as a weapon in the Bush administration’s “war on terror” — and also to investigate the history of music as torture.

As the production company, Java Films, explained:

[Christopher Cerf] always wanted his music to be fun and entertaining. But then he learned that his songs had been used to torture prisoners in Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. He is stunned by this abuse of his work and wants to find out how this could happen. Cerf embarks on a journey to learn what makes music such a powerful stimulant. In the process, he speaks to soldiers, psychologists and prisoners tortured with his music at Guantánamo and find out how the military has been employing music as a potent weapon for hundreds of years.

The film is available on Al-Jazeera’s website here. Read the rest of this entry »

10 Years in Guantánamo: British Resident Shaker Aamer, Cleared for Release But Still Held

Originally posted on the “Close Guantánamo” website, and written by Andy Worthington.

Ten years ago, on February 14, 2002, Shaker Aamer, a British resident, and originally one of 16 British prisoners in Guantánamo, arrived in Camp X-Ray, the rudimentary prison in the grounds of the US naval base in Cuba’s easternmost bay, which was used to hold prisoners until the first blocks of a more permanent facility, Camp Delta, opened for business in May 2002. On the same day, his fourth child, a son, was born.

A hugely charismatic figure, Aamer, born in Saudi Arabia in 1968, had moved to London in 1996, and had worked as an Arabic translator for a firm of solicitors working on immigration cases. He met and married a British woman and was granted residency. In June 2001, he took his family to Kabul — as did his friend Moazzam Begg — to volunteer for an Islamic charity. As his British solicitor Gareth Peirce noted in the Guardian on Tuesday, “Their work was teaching the sons and daughters of Arabic-speaking expatriates in the capital,” but after 9/11 and the US-led invasion, “the school was flattened in the first days of the bombing.”

Shaker made sure his pregnant wife and their three young children were safe, but was seized by Afghan bounty hunters, at a time when bounty payments of $5,000 a head were widespread. He was then sold on to other bounty hunters on two occasions, and on the third occasion was bought by Northern Alliance soldiers, who eventually handed him over — or sold him — to US forces. Read the rest of this entry »

Moazzam Begg, Andy Worthington and Polly Nash Attend Screening of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” at the European Parliament, Brussels, January 24, 2012

On Tuesday January 24, at 7 pm, there will be a special screening of the acclaimed documentary film “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington) at the European Parliament in Brussels. The screening will take place in the main European Parliament building, the Altiero Spinelli Building, Rue Wiertz, in Room ASP – 3G2, on the 3rd floor, and Moazzam Begg, former Guantánamo prisoner, and the director of the NGO Cageprisoners, will be joining Andy Worthington and Polly Nash for the screening, and for the Q&A session afterwards.

The screening has been arranged by Jean Lambert (UK Green MEP), with the support of Sarah Ludford (UK Liberal Democrat MEP) and Ana Gomes (Portuguese Socialist MEP), and the purpose of the screening is to raise awareness of the continued existence of Guantánamo, and its mockery of universal notions of fairness and justice, ten years after the prison opened, on January 11, 2002. Given President Obama’s very public failure to close the prison as promised, it is essential that other countries step forward to take cleared prisoners who cannot be safely repatriated, and one of the main purposes of the screening and the visit of Moazzam Begg and Andy Worthington is to encourage EU countries to re-engage with the process of resettling prisoners that was so successful in 2009 and 2010.

The screening is free, but anyone who wishes to attend needs to contact Rachel Sheppard, the Parliamentary Assistant to Jean Lambert MEP. If those wishing to attend do not already have an access badge for the European Parliament, they need to provide their full name, date of birth, nationality, passport number or ID card and number and also specify the type of document (passport, ID card) so that access badges can be arranged. Without an access badge, those wishing to attend the screening will not be allowed. Read the rest of this entry »

On Guantánamo’s 10th Anniversary, British Ex-Prisoners Talk About Their Lives, and Call for the Release of Shaker Aamer

With the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo fast approaching (on January 11), I was delighted that, on Sunday, the Observer not only ran a double-page feature about the British ex-prisoners (and Shaker Aamer, the last British prisoner still held), but also that Tracy McVeigh, Chief Reporter for the Observer, spoke to me on the phone, quoted me in the article, and used my phrase “toxic legacy” to describe Guantánamo since outgoing President George W. Bush handed it on to President Obama, who, notoriously, failed to close it within a year, as he promised when he took office three years ago.

As I have been explaining since the 9th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo a year ago, it is now appropriate to regard most of, if not all of the remaining 171 prisoners as political prisoners, given that the Obama administration, Congress and the judiciary have all made sure that Guantánamo may never close, and that few, if any of the remaining prisoners will ever be released, even though 89 of them were cleared for release (or, technically, “approved for transfer”) by the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established in January 2009.

The situation is no better for the other 82 prisoners, who are either scheduled to face trials that, in most cases, show no signs of materializing, or, in 46 cases, have been specifically designated as prisoners to be held indefinitely without charge or trial by President Obama, in an executive order last March. Although the President promised periodic reviews for these prisoners, his executive order essentially enshrines the indefensible –  indefinite detention without charge or trial — as an official policy of his administration, even though he and senior officials have been at pains to point out that it applies only to these men, and is not to be construed as lending credibility to indefinite detention in general. Read the rest of this entry »

Britain’s Secret Post-9/11 Torture Policy Revealed: Was Tony Blair’s Government Guilty of “Developing Something Close to a Criminal Policy”?

As the British government’s toothless torture inquiry is abandoned by ten NGOs and lawyers for the former Guantánamo prisoners, who have long recognized that it was nothing more than a whitewash, but have now given up on even trying to engage with it, politicians in the Tory-led coalition government are not the only ones feeling the heat. Yesterday, in a world exclusive, the Guardian‘s Ian Cobain exposed a top secret document, entitled, “Agency policy on liaison with overseas security and intelligence services in relation to detainees who may be subject to mistreatment,” which “reveal[ed] how MI6 and MI5 officers were allowed to extract information from prisoners being illegally tortured overseas.”

Describing the document as reportedly being “too sensitive to be publicly released at the government inquiry into the UK’s role in torture and rendition,” and as contributing to the decision by the NGOs and lawyers to boycott the inquiry because it does not have “credibility or transparency,” the Guardian explained how the secret policy “was operated by the British government for almost a decade,” and how it “instructed senior intelligence officers to weigh the importance of the information being sought must be balanced against ‘the level of mistreatment anticipated’ — the degree to which the prisoner or prisoners will suffer.”

The Guardian also explained how the document revealed the fears of the government and the intelligence agencies that they were breaking laws, as it “acknowledged that MI5 and MI6 officers could be in breach of both UK and international law by asking for information from prisoners held by overseas agencies known to use torture,” and also “explained the need to obtain political cover for any potentially criminal act by consulting ministers beforehand.” Read the rest of this entry »

Ten NGOs Withdraw from UK Torture Inquiry, Citing Lack of Credibility and Transparency

As I reported last month, ten NGOs, including Amnesty International, Liberty and Reprieve, announced their intention to boycott the government’s proposed inquiry into UK complicity in torture following the 9/11 attacks, on the first anniversary of Prime Minister David Cameron’s announcement that an inquiry would take place. Although the inquiry was initially greeted with guarded optimism, it rapidly became apparent that it was intended to be a whitewash, as I reported here, here, here and here.

Yesterday, the groups confirmed their intention to boycott the inquiry, sending a letter to the inquiry, asserting that “they will not be participating” and “do not intend to submit any evidence or attend any further meetings with the Inquiry team.”

In the letter, the NGOs said that the inquiry’s protocol and terms of reference showed it would not have the “credibility or transparency” to establish “the truth about allegations that UK authorities were involved in the mistreatment of detainees held abroad.”

As the Guardian reported, “Key sessions will be held in secret and the cabinet secretary will have the final say over what information is made public. Those who alleged they were subject to torture and rendition will not be able to question MI5 or MI6 officers, and foreign intelligence agencies will not be questioned.” Specifically, “Former detainees and their lawyers will not be able to question intelligence officials and all evidence from current or former members of the security and intelligence agencies, below the level of head, will be heard in private.” Read the rest of this entry »

A Good Day for Justice: British Supreme Court Bans Use of Secret Evidence by Intelligence Services

In a triumph for the principles of open justice, and a snub to the Tory-led coalition government, the British Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Wednesday that the government and the intelligence agencies cannot use secret evidence in court to prevent open discussion of allegations that prisoners were subjected to torture.

The appeal, by lawyers for MI5 — but with the explicit backing of the government — sought to overturn a ruling in the Court of Appeal last May, when judges ruled that the intelligence services could not suppress allegations, in a civil claim for damages submitted by six former Guantanamo prisoners, that the British government and its agents had been complicit in their ill-treatment. The six are Bisher al-Rawi, Jamil el-Banna, Richard Belmar, Omar Deghayes, Binyam Mohamed and Martin Mubanga, and they argued, as the Guardian put it, that “MI5 and MI6 aided and abetted their unlawful imprisonment and extraordinary rendition.”

The ruling last May precipitated a huge crisis in the government, as the first of hundreds of thousands of classified documents emerged from the court, revealing the extent to which Tony Blair and Jack Straw were up to their necks in wrongdoing, preventing consular access to a British citizen in Zambia, in Tony Blair’s case, and in Straw’s, approving the rendition of British citizens to Guantanamo the day before the prison opened in January 2002. I covered this story in detail in my article, UK Sought Rendition of British Nationals to Guantánamo; Tony Blair Directly Involved. Read the rest of this entry »

UK Torture Inquiry Boycotted by Lawyers, As David Cameron Fails Again to Demonstrate an Interest in Justice

Last Wednesday, just before David Cameron was engulfed in the News of the World phone hacking crisis, he had the opportunity to practice demonstrating the disregard for justice that he called on in response to the Murdoch scandal, when he attempted to distance himself from his friendship with two former News of the World editors, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, who, of course, served as his director of communications until January this year.

The practice run last Wednesday involved the torture inquiry that Cameron announced exactly a year before, on July 6, 2010, when he told the House of Commons that he had asked a judge, Sir Peter Gibson to “look at whether Britain was implicated in the improper treatment of detainees held by other countries that may have occurred in the aftermath of 9/11,” noting that, although there was no evidence that any British officer was “directly engaged in torture,” there were “questions over the degree to which British officers were working with foreign security services who were treating detainees in ways they should not have done.” Last Wednesday, the terms of reference for the torture inquiry were published. With storm clouds gathering over Wapping, David Cameron did not comment directly as human rights groups and lawyers savaged the pending inquiry as a whitewash, but he had already done all that was needed in the preceding twelve months. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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