STOP PRESS December 8: I just heard from Joy Hurcombe, the chair of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, that Clive Stafford Smith will also be speaking at the Parliamentary meeting on Tuesday.
If you’re in London, or anywhere near, and you care about the ongoing injustices of Guantánamo, then please come to a Parliamentary meeting for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo Bay, on Tuesday December 10, which is Human Rights Day. Established by the UN in 1950, Human Rights Day marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was approved on December 10, 1948.
Please also sign the international petition calling for his release, on the Care 2 Petition site.
Shaker, whose voice was recently recorded at Guantánamo by a CBS news crew, is one of 82 prisoners in Guantánamo who have long been cleared for release but are still held, and his continued imprisonment remains thoroughly unacceptable, because, although Congress has raised obstacles to the release of prisoners to countries they regard as dangerous, there is no conceivable way that the UK — America’s staunchest ally in the “war on terror” — could be regarded as an unsafe destination. Furthermore, the release yesterday of two Algerian prisoners who did not want to be repatriated, because they fear for their safety in their home country, which has a dubious human rights record, is not only a deeply troubling outcome for them, but also adds insult to injury where Shaker is concerned.
On the 65th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Parliamentary meeting, organised by John McDonnell MP, one of the few genuinely principled MPs in Parliament, is entitled, “Why is Shaker Aamer still in Guantanamo? What about his human rights?” and is taking place from 7-9pm in Committee Room 10 in the House of Commons, London WC1A 0AA. Read the rest of this entry »
Burning Effigies of Tories at the Bonfire of Cuts in Lewisham, a set on Flickr.
On November 5, 2013 — Bonfire Night — I photographed effigies of members of the cabinet of the Tory-led coalition government — including David Cameron, George Osborne and others, as well as key Lib Dems and Labour politicians — as they were burned by activists in a brazier in the centre of Lewisham, in south east London. The caricatures were drawn by a member of the political group People Before Profit.
The activists in Lewisham were part of a day of action across the UK, in which numerous protestors held Bonfires of Austerity, initiated by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, an anti-austerity coalition of activists, union members and MPs, to protest about the wretched Tory-led coalition government’s continued assault on the very fabric of the state, and on the most vulnerable members of society — particularly, the poor, the ill, the unemployed and the disabled.
The borough of Lewisham, where I live, is famous for successfully resisting the government’s plans to severely downgrade services at the local hospital, and on Bonfire Night activists marched from Catford to an open space in the centre of Lewisham (by the main roundabout, and affectionately known as “the grassy knoll”), where they burned effigies of David Cameron, George Osborne, Theresa May, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith and Boris Johnson. The protestors also burned effigies of the Lib Dems Nick Clegg and Vince Cable, key members of the disastrous coalition government, and Labour’s Gordon Brown and Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor. Read the rest of this entry »
What will it take to free Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay? Cleared for release in 2007 under President Bush, and again in 2010 under President Obama, he languishes still in Guantánamo, separated from his British wife and his four British children, because President Obama cannot be bothered to muster the political will to send him home to his family, and the British government may also be to blame, despite claims to the contrary, and despite a request for his return that was made to Barack Obama by David Cameron at a meeting in June.
On Wednesday, Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers represent 15 prisoners still held at Guantánamo, including Shaker Aamer, issued a press release announcing that, in the latest attempt to put pressure on the British government, he has “filed a complaint against the UK security services over their continuing involvement in his detention without charge or trial.”
Shaker has submitted his complaint to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), which “investigates complaints about the conduct of the UK’s intelligence agencies,” although it is “also highly secretive and provides a one-sided process in which the citizen hears at best very little — and usually nothing at all — about the case put against them.” In his complaint, Shaker states, “The actions of the [UK] security services have prevented [my] release due to defamatory statements that have no basis in honest fact.” Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, needs your help. Please write to the British Prime Minister David Cameron, via Twitter, or via the 10 Downing Street website, asking him to urgently raise Shaker’s case with President Obama when they meet at the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland next week.
Despite being cleared for release under President Bush in 2007, and again under President Obama in January 2010, when a sober and responsible inter-agency task force of government officials and representatives of the intelligence agencies included him in its recommendations to release 156 of the 240 prisoners held at the time, he is still imprisoned, and still in solitary confinement, and is on a hunger strike, along with the majority of the 166 men still held. Even according to the US authorities, whose figures have failed to match those given by the prisoners themselves, 104 prisoners are taking part in the hunger strike, and 43 of those men are being force-fed. The prisoners state that the true total of those taking part in the hunger strike is around 130.
Of the 156 prisoners cleared for release by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, 86 remain. The rest were freed — mostly in 2009 and 2010, before restrictions on the release of prisoners were raised by President Obama himself and by Congress. Obama banned the release of any cleared Yemenis after a failed bomb plot in December 2009, which had been hatched in Yemen, and Congress has also passed onerous restrictions on his ability to free prisoners — a ban on the release of prisoners to any country where even a single individual has allegedly engaged in “recidivism” (returning to the battlefield), and a demand that the secretary of defense must certify that, if released to a country that is not banned, a prisoner will not, in future, engage in terrorism.
This, of course, is an impossible demand, but there is a waiver in the legislation that allows him to bypass Congress and release prisoners if he regards it as being “in the national security interests of the United States.” Read the rest of this entry »
To paraphrase William Shakespeare, I came to bury Margaret Thatcher, not to praise her. However, due to a hospital appointment, I missed the procession and only arrived at St. Paul’s Cathedral after the funeral service, when the guests were leaving, although I was in time to take a few photos as reminders of the day when the woman was laid to rest who, during my lifetime, did more than any other individual to wreck the country that is my home.
My most fervent hope is that I will live to see Margaret Thatcher’s legacy overturned, and for a caring, inclusive society to replace the one based on greed, selfishness and cruelty that was her malignant gift to the people of Britain.
Since her death last week, I have largely avoided the sickening attempts by the Tories to use it for political gain, although I was absolutely delighted that their insistence on providing a lavish funeral at taxpayers’ expense backfired, because only 25 percent of the public thought that a state funeral was appropriate, and 60 percent opposed it. Read the rest of this entry »
So now we wait.
On Saturday, as this second set of my photos shows — following on from the first set here — around 25,000 people marched through Lewisham, in south east London, to a rally in Mountsfield Park in Catford, to deliver a powerful rebuke to senior NHS officials, and to the government.
In the first set, I focused on the initial gathering in the centre of Lewisham, and in this second set I photographed the march through the streets, past shoppers and car drivers earnestly honking their horns in support, past Lewisham Hospital, and on to Mountsfield Park in Catford, where there were speakers including Louise Irvine, a Deptford GP and the chair of the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign, and Heidi Alexander MP, who introduced a successful petition to save Lewisham Hospital, which now has over 30,000 signatures.
There was also music, a number of food stalls and a giant petition, and it felt, just for a few hours, as though a velvet revolution was beginning. It is certainly true that only huge numbers — like the numbers seen on Saturday — can genuinely alarm those in power, but it remains to be seen, of course, if such numbers can be mobilised again, not just for Lewisham, but across London, and throughout England as a whole, as the long years of this wretched coalition government — arrogant and cruel, to an extent that is almost beyond belief, and without a genuine mandate — continue to grind away at the very structure of civil society, hurling more and more of the most vulnerable members of society into genuinely alarming poverty, while continuing to destroy Britain economically, and doing nothing for anyone except the rich and the super-rich — the bankers, corporations and individuals who got us into financial difficulties in the first place, and who continue to avoid paying taxes on a colossal scale. Read the rest of this entry »
Save Lewisham Hospital: The Huge March on January 26, 2013, a set on Flickr.
On January 26, 2013, in Lewisham, in south east London, I took these photos of an extraordinary demonstration, in which an estimated 25,000 people marched from the centre of Lewisham, past Lewisham Hospital and up George Lane to Mountsfield Park in Catford to save Lewisham Hospital from having its A&E Department closed, and other services severely downgraded, including its maternity services.
It was one of the most exhilarating protests I have ever taken part in, a worthy successor to the one in the driving rain on November 24, when around 15,000 people showed up, providing the first thrilling indication that, in attacking the NHS in Lewisham, the government and the wrecking crew in the NHS’s management had sparked a movement of resistance that was spreading like wildfire throughout the borough and beyond. Yesterday, it felt like a continuation of that initial impulse — that something had been sparked which was finally waking people up to the understanding that, although politicians and bureaucrats wield often considerable power, and generally show disdain for us, in the end we are many and they are few. Read the rest of this entry »
Modern Britain is gripped by a cold-heartedness created by a sense of entitlement — not the entitlement to meagre benefits that is so shamefully touted by the Tory leaders of the coalition government as an excuse for hateful attacks on the welfare state, but the entitlement of those like David Cameron and George Osborne and those they represent, those who feel entitled to use clever accountants to avoid paying tax, both individually and in relation to the companies and corporations they support, and those who believe that it is acceptable to exploit others to live in the manner to which they believe they are entitled — which many people do through property.
These people, through their invented sense of entitlement, are presiding over the creation of the most hideously unequal society since before the time of the great Victorian reformers, who, in contrast, were inspired by a desire to help the poor rather than punish them, and were often inspired by the words and deeds of Jesus Christ. As a response to unfettered exploitation and hideous inequality, these reformers laid the foundations for the welfare state in the second half of the 19th century, foundations that were only fully realised through the establishment of the modern welfare state (including the creation of the NHS) by a Labour government after the Second World War.
However, in modern Britain, the notion of Christian charity is severely endangered by naked profiteers and those who, less obviously but no less damagingly, exploit those who cannot afford to buy their own homes to charge hideously expensive rents in a rental market that is unregulated by government, and is, moreover, one in which rampant greed has become commonplace. Read the rest of this entry »
Last Wednesday, while George Osborne was delivering his Autumn Statement, taking aim at the most vulnerable members of society once more, with another savage attack on the welfare state, I was in central London, and I returned home after he had made his smug and visibly heartless performance in the House of Commons, when the Evening Standard was already announcing his new attack on the poor and disabled.
The Standard‘s headline — “George Osborne hits welfare for poor and raids pensions of rich” — was not exactly a ringing endorsement of the Chancellor’s statement, but it failed to dent the prejudices of the two women next to me, who were returning home, presumably from their office jobs. As they idly perused the paper, they complained about the amount of money the unemployed receive, followed swiftly by a complaint that they then sit around at home doing nothing. There was no mention of the fact that most of what the unemployed receive from the government goes to their landlords, or that there is still only one job for every five people who are unemployed, let alone the fact that a large proportion of benefits are actually paid to working people who aren’t otherwise paid enough money to survive on. Why let anything that might lead you to regard the unemployed as fellow human beings interfere with some knee-jerk bigotry?
Complaining that they too were suffering, they then spent the rest of their journey home — disturbingly, to Brockley, where I also live — rather undermining their case, by talking about party dresses and which gyms they attended. Read the rest of this entry »
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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