Skeletal, 75-Pound Guantánamo Hunger Striker Tariq Ba Odah Seeks Release; Medical Experts Fear For His Life

A restraint chair at Guantanamo, used to force-feed prisoners (Photo by Jason Leopold).I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

For the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, introduced by the United Nations in 1997 to mark the entry into force of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment on June 26, 1987, a vivid reminder of the horrors of Guantánamo emerged the day before, when lawyers for Tariq Ba Odah, a Yemeni prisoner identified by the US authorities as Tarek Baada, sought “a court order granting his habeas petition and compelling the government to facilitate [his] immediate release” because of fears that, otherwise, he will die at the prison. The submission to the court is here.

Tariq, who was picked up in Pakistan by the local authorities at the end of 2001 and turned over to the US military, arrived at Guantánamo shortly after the prison opened in 2002, when he was 23 years old. He is now 36, and he is still held despite being approved for release in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009. He is one of 30 men, all Yemenis, who were placed in a category invented by the task force — “conditional detention,” which was made dependant on perceptions of the security situation in his home country improving, although it was never made clear who would make that decision, or how it would come about.

However, since President Obama began finding new homes in third countries for Yemenis approved for release last November, the only obstacle to his release now is the difficulty of finding a country to accept him, as well as countries prepared to offer new homes to the 29 other Yemenis in “conditional detention,” and 13 other Yemenis approved for release by the task force — or approved for release in the last year and a half by Periodic Review Boards — but still held. Since last November, 18 Yemenis have been released from Guantánamo to third countries. Read the rest of this entry »

“Petty and Nasty”: Guantánamo Commander Bans Lawyers From Bringing Food to Share with Prisoners

The meeting room in Camp Echo, mentioned in Guantanamo commander Rear Adm. Cozad's May 2015 memo prohibiting lawyers from bringing food into meetings with the clients, as seen from one of the cells. Camp Echo is where prisoners used to be held in isolation.I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

In the latest news from Guantánamo, the prison’s military commander, Rear Adm. Kyle Cozad, has issued a memorandum banning lawyers for the prisoners from bringing food to meetings with their clients. The memorandum, entitled, “Modification to Rules Regarding Detainee Legal and Periodic Review Board Meetings,” states, “Food of any kind, other than that provided by guard force personnel for Detainee consumption, is prohibited within meeting spaces.”

That innocuous sounding ban is, nevertheless, a huge blow to many lawyers and prisoners. Since lawyers were first allowed to visit prisoners ten years ago, and to represent them, after the Supreme Court granted them habeas corpus rights in Rasul v. Bush in June 2004, it has been an opportunity for bonding between lawyers and prisoners, and an opportunity for the prisoners to receive something from the outside world, in a place where, initially, they were completely cut off from the outside world, and where, even now, over six years after Barack Obama became president, they are still more isolated than any other prisoners held by the US — unable, for example, to meet with any family members, even if their relatives could afford to fly there, and, in almost all cases, held without charge or trial in defiance of international norms.

As veteran Guantánamo reporter Carol Rosenberg explained in an article for the Miami Herald, “the custom of eating with a captive across a meeting table at Camp Echo — with the prisoner shackled by an ankle to the floor — took on cultural and symbolic significance almost from the start when lawyers brought burgers and breakfast sandwiches from the base McDonald’s to prison meetings in 2005.” Read the rest of this entry »

Rights Groups Send An Open Letter to President Obama and Ashton Carter: Free the 57 Guantánamo Prisoners Approved for Release

A collaged image of President Obama and a guard tower at Guantanamo.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 »

Cliff Sloan, Former Envoy for Guantánamo Closure, On Why Cleared Prisoners, Including Shaker Aamer, Must Be Freed

Campaigners with Witness Against Torture show their support for Shaker Aamer in an action outside the British Embassy in Washington D.C. in January 2015.Last Wednesday, the Washington Post reawakened discussions about the future of Guantánamo, in an article entitled “Facing threat in Congress, Pentagon races to resettle Guantánamo inmates.” As I described it in my analysis of the article, the Post aired “the suggestion … that all the men approved for release in Guantánamo — 57 out of the 122 men still held — will be freed by the end of the year, and, if Congress proves obstructive, the Obama administration might close the facility before the end of Obama’s presidency by unilaterally moving the remaining prisoners to the US mainland.”

I was at pains to point out that, “[r]ealistically … it might be wisest to view these suggestions as the administration stating its best-case scenario,” but I found it convincing that, “[a]s a first step, officials plan to send up to 10 prisoners overseas, possibly in June,” and that one of these prisoners is Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, and I was reassured when a journalist friend explained that a source within the administration had told her that there was “cautious optimism” that these releases will indeed take place.

Following up on the story, Ian Woods of Sky News interviewed Cliff Sloan, the former State Department envoy for the closure of Guantánamo, who was appointed by President Obama in 2013. A veteran diplomat, Sloan left his job at the end of last year, but has continued to discuss Guantánamo, and the need for the prison’s closure, ever since. See his op-ed in the New York Times in January, for example. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: “Close Guantánamo” Protest Outside the White House on January 11, 2015, the 13th Anniversary of Prison’s Opening

Close Guantanamo: protestors outside the White House on January 11, 2015, the 13th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo (Photo: Andy Worthington).Click here to see the whole of my photo set on Flickr.

January 11, 2015 was the 13th anniversary of the opening of the Bush administration’s prison at Guantánamo Bay, which has been President Obama’s responsibility for the last six years, and for the fifth year running I attended the protest outside the White House, on behalf of two campaigns that I’m deeply involved in — Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker — along with representatives of groups including Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Witness Against Torture and World Can’t Wait, as part of a US tour that also took in New York City, Boston and other locations in Massachusetts, and Chicago.

See the video of me speaking outside the White House here, (and see more videos here), the video of a panel discussion in Washington D.C. that I took part in here, and videos of a panel discussion in New York that I took part in here. More videos will be forthcoming soon of talks I gave at various locations in Massachusetts, as well as links to radio interviews, to augment those collected here.

The anniversary event this year was generally uplifting, in part because the sun shone for a change, but also because of recent good news regarding Guantánamo (with the release of dozens of prisoners), and also because of the energy of those involved; in part, clearly, because of the passion of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, which seemed to me to have the possibility of remaining a major force in grass-roots American politics — for the worst of reasons, of course (because of the homicidal nature of the police, especially for young black men), but with more power behind it than I recall seeing at any time since the Occupy movement (and that, of course, was not about the deadly everyday reality of racism). Read the rest of this entry »

Radio, TV and Live Events: Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo and the Need to Close the Prison During His US Tour

Andy Worthington speaking to Bill Newman, a civil rights and criminal defense attorney and the director of the western Massachusetts office of the ACLU, on his weekday radio talk show on WHMP in Northampton, Massachusetts on January 14, 2015, during Andy's recent US tour.I’m back from my US tour, recovering from jet lag and fatigue as a result of a punishing (if rewarding) Stateside schedule, in which, over an 11-day period, I visited New York, Washington D.C., Boston and other locations in Massachusetts, and Chicago as part of series of events to mark the 13th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo, organized by Debra Sweet of World Can’t Wait, who accompanied me for the majority of the visit. I’ve already posted videos of me speaking outside the White House on the anniversary, and a video of an event at New America on January 12 at which I spoke along with the attorney Tom Wilner and Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of the military commissions at Guantánamo, who is now an implacable critic of the “war on terror.”

Below, I’m posting links to three radio shows I did on January 14, when I was in Massachusetts (one of which was with a show in Chicago, and was broadcast the day after), and a TV interview I did that same day for a local news show, WWLP-22News. On that particularly busy day, I also spoke at two events, for which videos will shortly be available.

For my first interview, at 9am, I spoke to Bill Newman, a civil rights and criminal defense attorney and the director of the western Massachusetts office of the ACLU, who hosts a weekday radio talk show on WHMP in Northampton, Massachusetts. Bill also worked as co-counsel on behalf of a Guantánamo prisoner several years ago. Read the rest of this entry »

As Three Yemenis Are Freed from Guantánamo, Video Highlights Plight of 52 Others, Long Cleared for Release

Fahd Ghazy, photographed before his capture and his rendition to Guantanamo.I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

On January 11, 2015, the prison at Guantánamo Bay will have been open for 13 long and unforgivable years. In the last year, President Obama has released 30 prisoners from Guantánamo, leaving 127 men still held, and today, on the last day of the year, the last of those 30 men — three Yemenis and two Tunisians, all approved for release in 2009 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009 — were given new homes in Kazakhstan.

This is progress, after the lean period between October 2010 and July 2013 when just five men were released, because Congress imposed obstacles that the president was unwilling to expend political capital overcoming. However, 59 of the prisoners still held are men who, like the five just freed, are men the Guantánamo Review Task Force said should no longer continue to be held back in 2009, and their continued detention, therefore, remains a source of serious concern.

Of the 59, all but seven are Yemenis, and whilst it is reassuring that Yemenis approved for release are finally being freed — after nearly five years in which their release was banned by both the president and Congress, following a foiled airline bomb plot in December 2009 that was hatched in Yemen — it is still a significant uphill struggle for the administration to find new homes for these 52 men. Read the rest of this entry »

Review Board Approves “Forever Prisoner” Ghaleb Al-Bihani for Release from Guantánamo, But Also Approves Ongoing Detention of Salem Bin Kanad

Six weeks ago, I reported on the Periodic Review Boards for two “forever prisoners” at Guantánamo — Ghaleb al-Bihani and Salem bin Kanad — who are both Yemenis, and were regarded by the Guantánamo Review Task Force, appointed by President Obama to review all the remaining prisoners’ cases in 2009, as too dangerous to release, even though it was acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial.

The PRBs — involving representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who meet at an office in Virginia and hear testimony by, or on behalf of the prisoners by video link from Guantánamo — took place to establish whether these two men should still be regarded as a threat, or whether they should be recommended for release.

This category of prisoner — as opposed to those approved for release, or those recommended for prosecution — is particularly problematical, as it relies on a presumption that the so-called evidence against the Guantánamo prisoners is somehow reliable, when that is patently not the case. The files on the prisoners are for the most part a dispiriting collection of unreliable statements made by the prisoners themselves or by their fellow prisoners in circumstances that were not conducive to telling the truth — immediately after capture, in America’s notorious prisons in Afghanistan, or in Guantánamo, all places and circumstances where torture and abuse were rife; or, in some cases, where bribery (the promise of better living conditions, for example) was used to try to secure information that could be used as evidence. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Review Boards (2/3): Ghaleb Al-Bihani, a Cook, Asks to Be Sent Home to Yemen or to Another Country

Last week, I published the first of three new articles about the Periodic Review Boards at Guantánamo, looking at the hearing for a Yemeni prisoner, Ali Ahmad al-Razihi, who had the opportunity to ask for his freedom on March 20.

Ali is one of 71 prisoners — out of the 154 men still held — who were either designated for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009 (46 men in total), or were recommended for prosecution (25 others).

The 46 had their ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial approved by President Obama in an executive order issued in March 2011, on the alarming basis that they were allegedly too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. The president tried to sweeten this unacceptable endorsement of indefinite detention by promising that the men would receive periodic reviews of their cases, but the first of these did not take place until last October. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: Close Guantánamo – The Washington D.C. Protest on the 12th Anniversary of the Prison’s Opening, Jan. 11, 2014

Close GuantanamoAndy Worthington calls for the closure of GuantanamoTorture is always wrongRev. Ron Stief calls for the closure of GuantanamoLeili Kashani calls for the closure of Guantanamo"Tell the world the truth": Shaker Aamer's words from Guantanamo
Medea Benjamin of Code Pink and a supporterThe "Close Guantanamo" march leaves the White HouseMr. President, you gave your word to close GuantanamoVeterans for Peace call for the closure of Guantanamo"Close Guantanamo" campaigners arrive at the Museum of American History"Close Guantanamo" campaigners at the Museum of American History
Shut down Guantanamo"Close Guantanamo" campaigners occupy the Museum of American HistoryWitness Against Torture activists call for the closure of Guantanamo in the Museum of American HistoryPalina Prasasouk reads out a letter from Shaker Aamer in GuantanamoThe Price of Freedom: Witness Against Torture activists call for the closure of Guantanamo in the Museum of American History

Close Guantánamo: The Washington D.C. Protest on the 12th Anniversary of the Prison’s Opening, Jan. 11, 2014, a set on Flickr.

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 »

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Andy Worthington

Campaigning investigative journalist and commentator, author, filmmaker, photographer, singer-songwriter and Guantánamo expert
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