Missing the Point on the Guantánamo Taliban Prisoner Swap and the Release of Bowe Bergdahl

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 Saturday, at the White House, President Obama announced that, in exchange for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan, held for five years by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network, he had released five Taliban prisoners from Guantánamo to Qatar.

Although the announcement was initially greeted positively, the president was soon under pressure from critics claiming that the five men were “battle-hardened Taliban commanders,” as the Washington Post put it, whose release posed a threat to America’s national security.

Some of the critical voices also claimed that Bowe Bergdahl was a deserter who should have been abandoned, and others chided President Obama for failing to notify Congress 30 days before the release of prisoners from Guantánamo, as required by the National Defense Authorization Act. Read the rest of this entry »

Some Progress on Guantánamo: The Envoy, the Habeas Case and the Periodic Reviews

I wrote the following article — under the heading, “Progress on Guantánamo,” 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.

Progress towards closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay — or even getting men freed who have been cleared for release by a government task force — has become such a slow and difficult process that any positive developments must be greeted with a sense of relief that at least something is being done.

In the last week, three developments that offer some hope have taken place — the appointment of a “Special Envoy for Guantánamo closure” in the Pentagon; the decision by the Justice Department not to contest the habeas corpus petition of a severally mentally ill prisoner; and the start of a review process for the majority of the 80 prisoners still held at Guantánamo who are not amongst the 84 prisoners who were cleared for release by President Obama’s inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in January 2010.

The fact that 84 prisoners who were cleared for release nearly four years ago are still held shows the extent to which progress towards closing Guantánamo has almost ground to a halt. Read the rest of this entry »

“I Wish I Was Dead,” Shaker Aamer Says from Guantánamo, as David Cameron Writes to His Daughter

In a desperate message from Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, told one of his lawyers by phone, “The administration is getting ever more angry and doing everything they can to break our hunger strike. Honestly, I wish I was dead.”

Shaker, who was cleared for release from the prison under President Bush in 2007 and under President Obama in 2009, was speaking to Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal action charity Reprieve, and his words were reported in the Observer, which also noted his claims that “the US authorities are systematically making the regime more hardline to try to defuse the strike, which now involves almost two-thirds of the detainees.”

As the Observer explained:

Techniques include making cells “freezing cold” to accentuate the discomfort of those on hunger strike and the introduction of “metal-tipped” feeding tubes, which Aamer said were forced into inmates’ stomachs twice a day and caused detainees to vomit over themselves.

The 46-year-old from London tells of one detainee who was admitted to hospital 10 days ago after a nurse had pushed the tube into his lungs rather than his stomach, causing him later to cough up blood. Aamer also alleges that some nurses at Guantánamo Bay are refusing to wear their name tags in order to prevent detainees registering abuse complaints against staff. Read the rest of this entry »

Please Sign the Petition to President Obama: Close the Prison at Guantánamo Bay

Please sign the petition to President Obama, asking him to close Guantánamo now.

With a prison-wide hunger strike raging at Guantánamo, the world’s media — and people all around the world — have woken up to the fact that a chronic injustice is still ongoing at Guantánamo, and that nothing will be done about it unless serious pressure is exerted on President Obama and on Congress, who, between them, have ensured that none of the remaining prisoners at Guantánamo — 166 in total — can leave the prison alive under any circumstances.

This is a monstrous betrayal of all notions of justice and decency. The men at Guantánamo are indefinitely detained without charge or trial — a situation that is unacceptable under any circumstances — even though 86 of them were cleared for release at least three years ago by a sober and responsible inter-agency task force that President Obama established when he took office in January 2009 — when, of course, he also promised to close Guantánamo within a year.

In the hope of persuading President Obama to take the necessary steps to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, and to revisit his failed promise to close the prison once and for all, following the fine words he uttered at a press conference yesterday, my colleague Col. Morris Davis has launched a petition, via Change.org, entitled, “President Obama: Close Detention Facility at Guantanamo Bay,” which has gone viral, attracting over 65,000 signatures in less than 24 hours, a sure sign that the American people — and people around the world — have woken up to the horrors of Guantánamo, and do not intend to be brushed aside. Read the rest of this entry »

How Long Can the Government Pretend that the Massive Hunger Strike at Guantánamo Doesn’t Exist?

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 March 14, 2013, 51 attorneys for prisoners at Guantánamo wrote to defense secretary Chuck Hagel to express “urgent and grave concern” about the mass hunger strike that has been taking place at the prison for the last five weeks, involving over a hundred of the 166 men still held — and to urge him “to address the underlying causes of the strike and bring it to a prompt and acceptable end.”

On March 4, some of the attorneys previously wrote to Rear Adm. John W. Smith, Jr., the Commander of Joint Task Force Guantánamo, and Capt. Thomas J. Welsh, the Staff Judge Advocate, reporting “information received from clients about the hunger strike and its effects on the men.” Although they requested an answer to their letter, no response was received, and in the meantime, as they explained in their letter to Chuck Hagel, “we have received additional reports from clients that the strike is ongoing and that the health of the men has continued to deteriorate in alarming and potentially irreparable ways.”

As the lawyers proceeded to explain, “we understand that the hunger strike was precipitated by widespread searches of detainees’ Qur’ans — perceived as religious desecration — as well as searches and confiscation of other personal items, including family letters and photographs, and legal mail, seemingly without provocation or cause. We also understand that these searches occurred against a background of increasingly regressive practices at the prison taking place in recent months, which our clients have described as a return to an older regime at Guantánamo that was widely identified with the mistreatment of detainees. Indeed, the conditions being reported by the men appear to be a significant departure from the way in which the prison has operated over the past several years.” 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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