As Last Egyptian Is Cleared for Release from Guantánamo, Another Yemeni Faces Periodic Review Board

Guantanamo prisoner Tariq al-Sawah as a young man, prior to his capture and transfer to Guantanamo, where his weight has ballooned, and, as a result, his health is severely threatened. Photo made available by his family.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.

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we have been campaigning, since we launched in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, for all the prisoners held at Guantánamo to be freed, unless they are to be charged and tried, and we are pleased to note that, as part of a new review process, the Periodic Review Boards (PRBs), established in 2013, seven men who had long been regarded as “too dangerous to release” have had those decisions overturned, and have had their release recommended.

Six of these decisions were taken last year, but the latest decision, which was taken on February 12 but was not reported until today, was for Tariq al-Sawah, the last Egyptian in Guantánamo, to be released — which, we hope, will happen soon. I wrote about his PRB, on January 22, here, describing the 57-year old’s serious health problems, as well as the absurdity of continuing to hold someone regarded as having provided a wealth of useful information, and I find it entirely appropriate that the board has recommended his release.

In its Unclassified Summary of Final Determination, the review board stated: Read the rest of this entry »

US Ambassador Snubs 60 Celebrities and MPs Calling for Release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer

"There is no love in Guantanamo": Singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor and her mum, actress/presenter Janet Ellis, hold a Valentine's Day card for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantanamo, to mark the 13th anniversary of his arrival at Guantanamo. Supporters of the We Stand With Shaker campaign have been encouraged to send cards to the US Ambassador to the UK, Matthew Barzun, asking him to ask President Obama to secure Shaker's release.Campaigners will be at US Embassy at 4pm with a giant Valentine’s Day card for Shaker, signed by over 60 MPs, celebrities and other supporters. UPDATE 1.30pm: Music legend Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd) and Saeed Siddique, Shaker Aamer’s father-in-law, will be attending the protest.

Issued as a press release by the We Stand With Shaker campaign.

In a shocking development, the US Ambassador, Matthew W. Barzun, has refused to meet with British MPs, celebrities and other supporters of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, who were planning to hand in a giant Valentine’s Day card for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, on Friday February 13, the day before the 13th anniversary of Mr. Aamer’s arrival at Guantánamo.

The card reads: “We urge you to ask President Obama to secure the immediate release from Guantánamo of British resident Shaker Aamer. Please tell the president we want Shaker returned to his loved ones in London now.”

Shaker Aamer has twice been approved for release by the US authorities — under President Bush in 2007 and under President Obama in 2009. Read the rest of this entry »

On Eve of 13th Anniversary of Shaker Aamer’s Arrival at Guantánamo, Renewed Calls for Action from Barack Obama and David Cameron

Andy Worthington with the Valentine's Day card made by the We Stand With Shaker campaign to mark the 13th anniversary of Shaker Aamer's arrival at Guantanamo.Despite a promise from President Obama to “prioritise” Shaker Aamer’s case after a recent meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron, the US defense secretary Chuck Hagel has told reporters that Shaker’s file was “not on [his] desk.”

He reportedly said, “As far as I know, I have made a decision on everything that is ready to be made a decision on.” Mr. Hagel’s role is crucial, as, by law, he must sign off on any planned releases from the prison, after Congress has been given 30 days’ notice.

In a letter to David Cameron, Cori Crider, the Strategic Director of the human right organisation Reprieve, challenged the Prime Minister about what had taken place during his recent meeting with the US president. She wrote:

What assurances were you given regarding Shaker’s case by the President during your visit, beyond what the NSC spokesperson said publicly on Mr Obama’s behalf? Did the President provide any indication on when Shaker’s family can expect to see him returned to London? Did you ask the President to ensure that Shaker’s case was sent to Secretary Hagel for his consideration? And finally, in the light of Secretary Hagel’s comments, will you now press the Obama administration on providing a concrete timetable for Shaker’s return?

Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer’s First Phone Call from Guantánamo to His Lawyers Since Publication of the Senate Torture Report

Andy Worthington and Joanne MacInnes of We Stand With Shaker with music legend Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd) at the launch of the campaign outside the Houses of Parliament on November 24, 2014 (Photo: Stefano Massimo).NOTE: Andy is currently in the US on a short tour to coincide with the anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo on January 11. See here for further details. You can contact Andy on 347-272-3576.

In the Mail on Sunday on January 4, long-time Guantánamo reporter David Rose, who worked for the Observer for many years, wrote an article about Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, after he was given access to the notes of Shaker’s first phone conversation with one of his lawyers — Clive Stafford Smith, the founder and director of the legal action charity Reprieve — following the publication, last month, of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s damning 6,700-page report about the CIA’s torture program.

The Mail has recently dedicated itself to Shaker’s case, inspired in part by We Stand With Shaker, the campaign that I established in November with activist Joanne MacInnes, which features numerous celebrities standing with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker — demonstrating how he is the elephant in the room of US-UK relations. Twice approved for release (in 2007 and 2009), his return has also been requested by the British government since 2007, and as a result his ongoing imprisonment is a shame and a disgrace for both countries.

On January 6, after Paul Lewis, the Pentagon’s special envoy for the closure of the Guantánamo prison, told the New York Times that “the Defense Department continues to aggressively pursue the transfer” of those prisoners “who have been declared eligible” for release — currently 59 of the remaining 127 prisoners — Reprieve urged Prime Minister David Cameron, who is “reportedly traveling to the US in January to meet President Obama,” to “raise his case and return from the visit with a clear date for Mr. Aamer’s release.” Read the rest of this entry »

Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters Calls for the Release of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo

Andy Worthington and Joanne MacInnes of We Stand With Shaker with music legend Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd) at the launch of the campaign outside the Houses of Parliament on November 24, 2014 (Photo: Stefano Massimo).My friends,

I’ve been offline for the last week, away from home with my family during this holiday period, staying in a house without wi-fi access. My apologies if you missed me, but I was also exhausted and run-down after the relentless work involved in the We Stand With Shaker campaign I launched with a colleague, Joanne MacInnes, on November 24, so I felt it was acceptable to have a short break.

The campaign we established was for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, calling in particular for David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, to drop the government’s official position — that the final decision about his fate rests in the hands of the Obama administration — and to demand his release and his return to the UK.

This is required of the PM under the government’s obligations to Mr. Aamer, a legal British resident who had been given indefinite leave to remain in the UK with his British wife and British children before his kidnap in Afghanistan (where he had traveled with his family to undertake humanitarian aid projects) and his rendition to Guantánamo in February 2002.

Mr. Aamer was cleared for release from Guantánamo under President Bush in 2007, and again under President Obama in 2009. In addition, the British government has been requesting his return since 2007. His continued imprisonment is, therefore, completely unacceptable — and inexplicable too, unless one accepts, as I think is necessary, that both the US and the UK governments, at the urging of their security services, would prefer to send him back to Saudi Arabia, the country of his birth, where he would be prevented from talking about what — as the foremost campaigner for the prisoners’ rights within Guantánamo — he knows about various crimes committed by his captors in the “war on terror.” Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer Speaks from Guantánamo, and His Family Talk About His 13-Year Ordeal

We Stand With Shaker: the logo for the campaign to secure the release  from Guantanamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, launched on November 24, 2014.Today, the Daily Mail, which has thrown its weight behind We Stand With Shaker — the campaign to secure the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, which I launched three weeks ago with my colleague Joanne MacInnes — published an article dealing with Shaker’s recent phone call to his family from the prison — shockingly, the first call he has been allowed to make in two and a half years. The article also included comments made by his father-in-law, Saeed Siddique, and by Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal action charity Reprieve, who visited Shaker at Guantánamo last week.

The Mail began its coverage by describing the call — on an iPad provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross, who also facilitated the call — noting that the screen was “filled by a familiar round face with a white-flecked beard and deeply-etched lines,” but adding, “Though the man forced one of his big, trademark smiles, fear and misery were seared in his eyes.”

The family, the article explained, “bolstered his spirits with uplifting stories about their lives — how his children were faring well at school and growing up to make him proud,” although it added that they too — his wife, Zin, and their four children (the youngest of whom is 13, and has never met his father) “struggled to mask their sorrow.”

The very fact that he was allowed to call his family, however, must give hope that his release may be imminent. Although he was banned from talking to his family in 2012 — presumably, though this is not stated, as a punishment for his refusal to be cooperative and to cease his persistent resistance to the injustice of being held indefinitely without charge or trial — he “has been permitted to make two Skype calls to them in the past month.” Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are the Five Guantánamo Prisoners Given New Homes in Georgia and Slovakia and Who Is the Repatriated Saudi?

Abdel Ghalib Hakim, a Yemeni prisoner in Guantanamo who was released to start a new life in Georgia in November 2014. Hakim is seen in a photograph from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.On November 20, five men — long cleared for release — were freed from Guantánamo to begin new lives in Georgia and Slovakia. Four of the men are Yemenis, and the fifth man is a Tunisian. Two days after, a Saudi was also released, repatriated to his home country. The releases reduce the prison’s population to 142, leaving 73 men still held who have been approved for release — 70 by the Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established to review all the prisoners’ cases in 2009, and three this year by Periodic Review Boards, a new review process that began in October 2013. Of the 73, it is worth noting that 54 are Yemenis.

The Yemenis given new homes in Georgia and Slovakia are the first Yemenis to be freed in over four years — since July 2010, when Mohammed Hassan Odaini, a student seized by mistake, was released after having his habeas corpus petition granted by a US judge. Until Thursday’s releases, he was the only exception to a ban on releasing any Yemenis that was imposed by President Obama in January 2010 (and was later reinforced by Congress), after a Nigerian man recruited in Yemen, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, tried and failed to blow up a plane from Europe to Detroit with a bomb in his underwear. Last May, President Obama dropped his ban on releasing any Yemenis, stating that their potential release would be looked at on a case by case basis, but it took until last Thursday for any of them to be released.

The release of these four Yemenis to Georgia and Slovakia strongly indicates that the entire US establishment’s aversion to releasing any Yemenis to their home country remains intact, which cannot be particularly reassuring for the 54 other Yemenis approved for release, because most third countries persuaded to take in former Guantánamo prisoners don’t take more than a handful. Read the rest of this entry »

We Stand With Shaker Website Launches, Plus Campaign Video Featuring My “Song for Shaker Aamer” With My Band The Four Fathers

The logo for the We Stand With Shaker campaign, launched on Nov. 24, 2014.What a day it’s been! A great launch, for We Stand With Shaker, the new campaign to secure the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, including the launch of our website, which features photos of supporters all around the world holding their own signs that say “I Stand With Shaker.”

Also released today — and also on the website — is the campaign video, made by Billy Dudley, featuring my band The Four Fathers performing “Song for Shaker Aamer,” the song I wrote for the campaign, which is available below, via YouTube. Please watch it if you have three minutes to spare, and please share it if you like it:

Our special guest for the launch in Old Palace Yard, opposite Parliament, was Roger Waters (Pink Floyd’s chief songwriter), who told me last night that he was coming, but we were also delighted to welcome Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve (and Shaker’s lawyer for many years), Green MP Caroline Lucas, John McDonnell MP (who has organised a Parliamentary meeting tomorrow evening with the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, at which I’m speaking), the comedian Jeremy Hardy and, unexpectedly, human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. Read the rest of this entry »

We Stand With Shaker: Come to the Launch in London on Monday Nov. 24 Calling for the Release of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo

We Stand With Shaker: the logo for the campaign to secure the release  from Guantanamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prson, launched on November 24, 2014.Initially published on the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner, as “We Stand With Shaker: New Campaign Launches on Nov. 24 Calling for the Release of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo.” 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 Monday Nov, 24, a new campaign, We Stand With Shaker, will be launched in London, calling for the release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, and his return to his family in the UK. Shaker has twice been approved for release by the US authorities — under President Bush in 2007 and under President Obama in 2009 — and the British government has been calling for his return since 2007, and yet, inexplicably, he is still held.

The launch takes place from 12.30pm to 1.30pm in Old Palace Yard, opposite the Houses of Parliament, and will be attended by Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, John McDonnell MP (Labour, Hayes and Harlington), Caroline Lucas MP (Green, Brighton Pavilion), comedian Jeremy Hardy, Andy Worthington, the director of the campaign, and others tbc. Those attending will be standing with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer, designed to represent how he is the “elephant in the room” when it comes to Britain’s dealings with the US.

If you’re in London, or anywhere near, and want to bring an end to Shaker’s 13 unjustifiable years of imprisonment without charge or trial, please come along, in an orange jumpsuit if possible, and with a sign saying “I Stand With Shaker” to show your support, but if you don’t have any of these, or can’t get hold of them, don’t worry; please come along anyway and show your support. You will be warmly welcomed. Read the rest of this entry »

“We Stand With Shaker,” A New Campaign Calling for the Release of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo, Launches Monday Nov. 24

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Next Monday, November 24, I’m launching a new campaign, “We Stand With Shaker,” with my colleague Jo MacInnes, and the support of organisations including Reprieve, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign and Close Guantánamo, calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, born in Saudi Arabia, who has a British wife and four British children.

Please follow us on Twitter, and like and share us on Facebook. The website will follow in the next few days, and there’ll be a launch outside Parliament on Monday Nov. 24, the 13th anniversary of Shaker’s capture by bounty hunters in Afghanistan, where he had travelled with his family to provide humanitarian aid.

November 24 will also see the release of a promotional video for the campaign, featuring my band The Four Fathers performing “Song for Shaker Aamer,” the campaign song that I wrote. Furthermore, key elements of the campaign involve celebrities and members of the public — across the world — showing support for the campaign, and I’ll be providing more details about that in the next few days. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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