Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses the Potential Closure of Guantánamo with Chris Cook in Canada and on South African Radio

Andy Worthington (center) and Aliya Hussain of the Center for Constitutional Rights outside the White House on January 11, 2016, the 14th anniversary of the opening of the prison. Behind Andy is the giant inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer that was at the heart of the We Stand With Shaker campaign (Photo: Justin Norman for Witness Against Torture).It’s been a busy month — firstly, with my visit to the US to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo, focused on the 14th anniversary of the opening of the prison on January 11, and then with the launch of my new campaign, the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, on January 20. That campaign was officially launched on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman, when I appeared with Roger Waters, a supporter of my work and of the campaign to get Guantánamo closed, who also played a major role in publicizing the We Stand With Shaker campaign that I launched in November 2014, with the activist Joanne MacInnes, to secure the release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo.

On Wednesday, I spoke to Chris Cook for his Gorilla Radio show in British Columbia. Chris and I last spoke a year ago, and our latest interview is available here as an MP3, beginning at 38:20.

Chris and I spoke about my tour, Roger Waters, the successful campaign to get Shaker released the Countdown to Close Guantánamo and how the prison might finally be closed, and I hope you have time to listen to the show. Read the rest of this entry »

On Omar Khadr’s 29th Birthday, Bail Conditions Eased; Allowed to Visit Grandparents, and Electronic Tag Removed

Omar Khadr photographed after his release on bail in Canada in May 2015.Today (September 19) is the 29th birthday of former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Khadr, and it is, I think, fair to say that it will be his best birthday since before he was seized by US forces after a firefight in Afghanistan, where he had been taken by his father, in July 2002, when he was just 15 years old. Treated brutally in US custody, he ended up agreeing to a plea deal in a trial by military commission, in October 2010, just to get out of Guantánamo and to return home. As a result of his plea deal, he received an eight-year sentence, with one year to be served in Guantánamo, and the rest in Canada.

In the end, the Canadian government — which has persistently violated his rights, and unconditionally backed the US in its outrageous treatment of a juvenile prisoner, who was supposed to be rehabilitated rather then punished — dragged its heels securing his return, which eventually took place in September 2012. He was then — unfairly and unjustly — imprisoned in a maximum-security prison until that decision was eventually overturned, and in May a judge granted him bail, pending the outcome of an appeal against his conviction in the US.

So this birthday — the one I expect he will be enjoying to the full — is the first he has spent in freedom since his 15th birthday, back in 2001, and yesterday he received some good news regarding the restrictions under which he was granted bail back in May that can only be adding to his enjoyment today. Read the rest of this entry »

Former Guantánamo Prisoner Omar Khadr Asks for Bail Conditions to be Eased So He Can Visit His Family

Former Guantanamo prisoner Omar Khadr speaking to the media after his release from prison on bail on May 7, 2015. Photo made available by Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star on Twitter.The former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Khadr, who was freed on bail in May, after spending two years and eight months in Canadian prisons (and nearly ten years in Guantánamo), has asked a Canadian court to ease his bail conditions, so he can fly to Toronto to visit his family, attend a night course at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), and get to early morning prayers.

As the Canadian Press described it, he was granted bail “pending his appeal in the US against his 2010 conviction for war crimes by a widely discredited military commission at Guantánamo Bay” — “widely discredited” being something of an understatement.

Although no one has ever disputed the fact that Omar was a model prisoner, and has not been in any trouble since being freed from prison and allowed to live with his lawyer Dennis Edney and his wife, the bail conditions are harsh. As the Canadian Press described it, he is “required to communicate with his family … only in English and under the Edneys’ supervision,” and is not allowed to leave Alberta, except to stay at Edney’s vacation home in British Columbia. Read the rest of this entry »

Canadian Supreme Court Rules That Omar Khadr Was A Juvenile Prisoner, Not An Adult

Former Guantanamo prisoner Omar Khadr speaking to the media after his release from prison on bail on May 7, 2015. Photo made available by Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star on Twitter.How much money will the Canadian government spend in its futile effort to demonize Omar Khadr? A week after the former child prisoner — now 28 years old — was freed on bail after nearly 13 years behind bars (ten years in Guantánamo, and the rest in Canada), winning over numerous Canadians with his humility as he spoke in public for the first time, the Canadian government, which had unsuccessfully argued that releasing him on bail would damage its relations with the US, faced another humiliating court defeat, this time in Canada’s Supreme Court.

The government was claiming that Omar — just 15 years old when he was seized after a firefight in Afghanistan, where he had been taken by his father — had been sentenced as an adult, not a juvenile. The intention was that, if Omar is to be returned to prison if his appeal against his conviction in the US fails (which, it should be noted, seems unlikely), he would be returned to a federal prison. The ruling followed an appeals court ruling in Omar’s favor last July, which I wrote about here.

However, the Supreme Court ruled that Omar had been sentenced as a juvenile, and that, if he were to be returned to prison, it would therefore be to a “provincial reformatory,” as the Globe and Mail described it. Read the rest of this entry »

Former Guantánamo Prisoner Omar Khadr Says He Is “Ready” for Freedom; All Decent People Must Agree

The updated logo for the Free Omar Khadr Now campaign.UPDATE: I’m delighted to report that Justice Myra Bielby has granted Omar’s bail. “Mr. Khadr, you are free to go,” she said at the hearing today in the appeals court in Edmonton. The Toronto Star reported that Omar “broke into a big, wide smile when the decision was read. His supporters in the courtroom erupted in cheers.”

As the Guardian described it, however, “Khadr’s legal ordeal is far from over. The government has given notice that it intends to challenge the bail order itself.” Nevertheless, I believe the government needs to accept that its vindictive demonization of Omar has run its course. On June 25, Omar will go before a parole board, providing another opportunity for him to be granted his freedom.

Omar’s long-established attorney Dennis Edney, with whom he will be living, told reporters, “I intend to drive him straight home,” and added, as the Guardian put it, that “he had squeezed [his] finger and said: ‘We did it.'” His other longtime attorney, Nathan Whitling, said, “Whatever anyone may think of Mr. Khadr, he’s now served his time.” Read the rest of this entry »

Canadian Judge Grants Bail to Former Guantánamo Prisoner Omar Khadr

Former Guantanamo prisoner Omar Khadr in a recent photo taken at the medium-security Bowden Institution in Innisfail, Canada, where he has been held since February 2014.Over two and a half years since Canadian citizen and former child prisoner Omar Khadr returned to Canada from Guantánamo, a judge in Alberta, Justice June Ross, has granted his application for bail that was argued in Edmonton last month.

“He has a 12½ year track record as a model prisoner, and a release plan supported by educators, mental health professionals, and his lawyers,” Ross wrote in her opinion. Omar has an appeal ongoing in the US against his conviction, following a number of successful appeals by other prisoners convicted in Guantánamo’s deeply flawed military commissions process, and, as the BBC described it, Justice Ross “said the appeal was likely to succeed and keeping him in jail was not in the public interest.”

I cannot express sufficiently how heartening it is to hear that Omar’s bail application has been granted, after nearly 13 years in which he has been treated appallingly by both the US authorities and his own government. Read the rest of this entry »

Omar Khadr Urges Canadian Government to Respect the Law While Dealing with National Security Issues

In the wake of last week’s attacks in Ottawa by a lone gunman, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, who killed a soldier at the National War Memorial and also attacked Parliament Hill, and another attack in Quebec, where a warrant officer was run over and killed, the word “terrorism” has been used liberally, and the Canadian government has rushed to release a new bill, the “Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act,” which, if passed, “will expand the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service,” as the Globe and Mail reported.

The paper stated that sources had told them that the government was “weighing new tools to deal with citizens who openly support terrorist attacks on Canadians or back groups that urge this goal,” and that “the country’s top Mountie”  — RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson — was “calling on the government to make it easier to restrict the liberties of suspects in terror cases.” When senior officials start talking openly about restricting liberties, alarm bells should always start ringing.

In another chilling passage, the Globe and Mail noted that the government “has already signalled it’s looking at lowering the threshold for preventive arrests.” That is chilling, of course, because “preventive arrests” overturns the accepted concept of the law as something that is designed to deal with crimes that have taken place, not crimes that may or may not take place in the future. Read the rest of this entry »

Canadian Appeals Court Rules That Former Guantánamo Prisoner Omar Khadr Should Be Serving a Youth Sentence

Good news about Guantánamo is rare —  whether regarding those still held, or those released — so it was reassuring to hear this week that the Court of Appeal in Alberta, Canada, delivered a major blow to the Canadian government’s efforts to hold former prisoner Omar Khadr in federal prison rather than in a provincial jail. Khadr is serving an eight-year sentence handed down in a plea deal at his trial by military commission in Guantánamo in October 2010, and has been held in federal prisons since his return to Canada, where he was born in 1986.

The 27-year old was just 15 years old when he was seized in Afghanistan after a firefight with US forces in a compound. He had been taken there, and deposited with some adults, by his father, but on his capture, when he was severely wounded, he was abused in US custody and eventually put forward for a war crimes trial, even though, as a juvenile at the time of the alleged crime, he should have been rehabilitated rather than punished according to an international treaty on the rights of the child signed by the US (and by Canada), even though there is no evidence that the allegation that he threw a grenade that killed a US soldier is true, and even though there is no precedent for claiming that a combat death in an occupied country is a war crime.

Khadr has since explained that he only agreed to the plea deal because he could see no other way of ever getting out of Guantánamo, and last November, via his US civilian lawyer, Sam Morison, he appealed in the US for his conviction to be overturned. In recent years, US appeals court judges have delivered two devastating rulings, overturning two of the only convictions secured in the military commissions, in the cases of Salim Hamdan and Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, on the basis that the war crimes for which the men were convicted were not war crimes at the time the legislation authorizing the commissions was passed — and had, in fact, been invented by Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

Canada’s Prison Ombudsman Still Critical of Classification of Omar Khadr, Former Guantánamo Prisoner

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 »

Progress in Canada: Former Guantánamo Prisoner Omar Khadr Moved to Medium-Security Prison

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. The move punctures the prevailing rhetoric — from the government, and in the right-wing press — that Khadr is a dangerous individual.

This lamentable rhetoric is the product of three particular factors: racism and/or Islamophobia; a hypocritical refusal to recognize the rights of child prisoners, despite a Supreme Court judgment that was severely critical of the government; and a deliberate refusal to recognise that Khadr’s plea deal at a military commission trial in Guantánamo had nothing to do with justice and guilt, and was agreed to solely to secure his release from Guantánamo, and his return home to Canada, where he was born 27 years ago.

Khadr was just 15 years old when he was seized by US forces, in a severely wounded state, after a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002. According to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which came into force in February 2002, and which both the US and Canada then ratified, juvenile prisoners — those under 18 when their alleged crimes take place — “require special protection.” The Optional Protocol specifically recognizes “the special needs of those children who are particularly vulnerable to recruitment or use in hostilities”, and requires its signatories to promote “the physical and psychosocial rehabilitation and social reintegration of children who are victims of armed conflict.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

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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