On Tuesday, in a courtroom in New York City, a long-running chapter in the “war on terror” came to an end, when Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, 48, a Kuwaiti-born cleric who appeared in media broadcasts as a spokesman for Al-Qaeda the day after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, received a life sentence based on the three counts for which he was convicted after his trial in March: conspiracy to kill Americans, providing material support to terrorists and conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.
The life sentence came as no surprise, as it is permissible for the main conspiracy charge, although Abu Ghaith’s lead defense lawyer, Stanley L. Cohen, had, as the New York Times described it, “sought a sentence of 15 years, saying in a court submission that his client was facing ‘the harshest of penalties for talk — and only talk.’” The Times added that Cohen had likened Abu Ghaith to “an outrageous daytime ‘shock-radio’ host, or a World War II radio propagandist for a losing ideology.”
In court, as the Times also noted, Cohen “emphasized that his client had played no role in specific acts of terrorism,” but the government had argued otherwise, stating in a sentencing memorandum that there was “no fathomable reason to justify a sentence other than life.” Read the rest of this entry »
Is there no end to this government’s flagrant disregard for the fundamental rights of its citizens? Today, by 305 votes to 239, the House of Commons overturned amendments to the current Immigration Bill made by the House of Lords, which concerned home secretary Theresa May’s proposals to strip naturalised British citizens of their citizenship without any form of due process, even if doing so makes the individuals in question stateless.
Back in March, as I described it in my article, “The UK’s Unacceptable Obsession with Stripping British Citizens of Their UK Nationality” MPs first voted, by 297 votes to 34, to pass the citizenship-stripping clause, which Theresa May had added to the Immigration Bill in January, and which, due to its addition at the last minute, had not received any scrutiny. Since 2002, the government has had the power to remove the citizenship of dual nationals who they believe to have done something “seriously prejudicial” to the UK, but May’s new legislation was designed to increase her powers, “allowing her to remove the nationality of those who have acquired British citizenship, even if it will make them stateless, if they have done something ‘seriously prejudicial to the vital interests’ of the UK,” as described in December by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which has been covering this story closely.
In April, by 242 votes to 180, the House of Lords replaced the proposal with an amendment requiring it to be further considered by a joint committee of the Commons and Lords before being implemented, an eminently sensible proposal that should not have been overturned by 305 MPs in the House of Commons. Read the rest of this entry »
In January, Theresa May, the British Home Secretary, secured cross-party support for an alarming last-minute addition to the current Immigration Bill, allowing her to strip foreign-born British citizens of their citizenship, even if it leaves them stateless.
The timing appeared profoundly cynical. May already has the power to strip dual nationals of their citizenship, as a result of legislation passed in 2002 “enabling the Home Secretary to remove the citizenship of any dual nationals who [have] done something ‘seriously prejudicial’ to the UK,” as the Bureau of Investigative Journalism described it in February 2013, but “the power had rarely been used before the current government.”
In December, the Bureau, which has undertaken admirable investigation into the Tory-led mission to strip people of their citizenship, further clarified the situation, pointing out that the existing powers are part of the British Nationality Act, and allow the Home Secretary to “terminate the British citizenship of dual-nationality individuals if she believes their presence in the UK is ‘not conducive to the public good’, or if they have obtained their citizenship through fraud.” The Bureau added, “Deprivation of citizenship orders can be made with no judicial approval in advance, and take immediate effect — the only route for people to argue their case is through legal appeals. In all but two known cases, the orders have been issued while the individual is overseas, leaving them stranded abroad during legal appeals that can take years” — and also, of course, raising serious questions about who is supposedly responsible for them when their British citizenship is removed. Read the rest of this entry »
Six weeks ago, on June 26, the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, initiated by the United Nations in 1997, on the 10th anniversary of the the day that the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into force, I posted the first half of a newly released documentary film, “Culture of Impunity,” for which I was interviewed along with the law professor and author Marjorie Cohn, the professor, author and filmmaker Saul Landau, the author and activist David Swanson, Laura Pitter of Human Rights Watch and Stephen Rohde of the ACLU.
The documentary, which looks at the many ways in which the most senior figures in the Bush administration — including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld — have escaped accountability for the crimes committed in the “war on terror” declared after the 9/11 attacks, was produced by Alternate Focus, which describes itself as “working for peace and justice by offering the American public media which shows another side of Middle Eastern issues,” and I was interviewed for it in April.
The producer, John Odam, has just sent me a link to the second part of this powerful documentary, on YouTube, which I’ve made available below, along with the first part. It features all of the experts interviewed in the first half, as well as Stephen Zunes, a Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco. Read the rest of this entry »
Several months ago, I responded to a request to attend the annual “Independence From America” protest on July 4, the American Day of Independence, outside RAF Menwith Hill near Harrogate in Yorkshire. The event is organised by the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases (CAAB), and I was invited by Lindis Percy, a veteran activist who has been arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned on numerous occasions, to speak about Guantánamo. I was, of course, delighted to accept the invitation, and I look forward to the brief return to my roots, as I grew up in the north of England.
The protest will be from 5 to 9 pm, and other speakers are Salma Yaqoob, psychotherapist, Chair of Birmingham Stop the War and a spokesperson for Birmingham Central Mosque, and the journalist Martin Wainwright of the Guardian. Other guests include Mizan the Poet, the folk singers Ziggurat, and the East Lancs Clarion Choir, “Quaker Walkers celebrating 100 years of the Northern Friends Peace Board,” and there will also be a drumming workshop with Steve Hill of the Daftasadrum Drum Circle group.
At the time I accepted the invitation, none of us knew how the existence of an alarmingly overreaching surveillance state would be in the news at the time of the protest, as a result of the revelations of the US whistleblower Edward Snowden, because there are few places that symbolize this problem as powerfully as Menwith Hill. Nominally an RAF station that provides communications and intelligence support services to the UK and the US, it has actually been controlled by America since its establishment in 1954, and has been in the control of the NSA (the National Security Agency, the organisation at the heart of Snowden’s complaints) since 1966. Read the rest of this entry »
On May 13, I was privileged to be invited to a London preview of “Dirty Wars,” the new documentary film, directed by Richard Rowley and focusing on the journalist Jeremy Scahill’s investigations into America’s global “war on terrorism” — not historically, but right here, right now under President Obama.
In particular, the film, which opens in the US this weekend, and is accurately described by the New York Times as “pessimistic, grimly outraged and utterly riveting,” follows Scahill, who wrote it with David Riker, and is also the narrator, as he uncovers the existence of the shadowy organization JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command, established by 1980, which is at the heart of the “dirty wars” being waged in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere.
I had seen rushes with representatives of the Center for Constitutional Rights at the London base of the Bertha Foundation, one of the backers of the film, last year, and I remembered the powerful sequences in Afghanistan, where Scahill found out about JSOC after meeting the survivors of a raid in Gardez by US forces in 2010 in which two pregnant women had been killed, and there had then been a cover-up.This involved US soldiers returning to the scene of their crime to remove bullets from the corpses — something difficult to forget once informed about. Read the rest of this entry »
No More Drones and Close Guantánamo: Protest at CIA Headquarters, a set on Flickr.
On January 12, 2013, during my ten-day visit to the US to campaign for the closure of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo on the 11th anniversary of its opening, I joined around a hundred protestors, from groups including Witness Against Torture, Code Pink, Episcopal Peace Fellowship DC, Northern Virginians for Peace & Justice, Pax Christi and World Can’t Wait to protest against the Obama administration’s use of drones in its ongoing “war on terror,” and also to protest about the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, the day after the 11th anniversary of the prison’s opening.
The protest took place outside one of the entrances to the headquarters of the CIA, in McLean, Virginia, and I was delighted to be asked to address the crowd, drawing connections between Obama’s use of drones and Bush’s use of torture, “extraordinary rendition” and the indefinite detention to which the prisoners at Guantánamo are still subjected. Before and after, I was reunited with various friends in the activist community, and also met others for the first time, as I wandered around with my camera, capturing the photos in this set. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s over 24 hours since I arrived in the US, with the support of Witness Against Torture, World Can’t Wait and Close Guantánamo, for a series of events to mark the 11th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a shameful anniversary that should not have come to pass. Four years ago, when he took office, President Obama promised to close the prison within a year, but he failed to fulfil that promise. His lack of courage has been matched by opportunistic intervention from Congress, where lawmakers have passed legislation designed to thwart any efforts to close Guantánamo. To complete the failures of all three branches of the US government, the courts too have added their own contribution, with the D.C. Circuit Court gutting the habeas corpus rights of the prisoners, which lawyers spent many years fighting for, and the Supreme Court refusing to revisit the prisoners’ cases, when given the opportunity last year.
As I — and others who still care about the closure of Guantánamo — continue to point out, the ongoing existence of Guantánamo is an affront to all notions of justice and fairness. Distressingly, of the 166 men still held, 86 were cleared for release by President Obama’s interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force, and yet, through the combination of cowardice, indifference, opportunism and scaremongering outlined above, they remain held, even though one long-cleared prisoner, Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, died at Guantánamo last September, and even though President Obama won reelection in November, and is now free to act to secure his legacy rather than focusing all his attention on campaigning — and not mentioning anything contentious. If he wants a legacy that doesn’t describe him, amongst other things, as the man who promised to close Guantánamo but then failed to do because it was politically inconvenient, he needs to act now. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week we were reminded, via the Miami Herald, of how Guantánamo is not on the agenda for the forthcoming Presidential election. In 2008, President Obama was preparing to order the prison’s closure, but his executive order in January 2009, promising to close it within a year, failed to lead to the prison’s closure, and this time around the Democrats’ official message is more nuanced. “We are substantially reducing the population at Guantánamo Bay without adding to it,” their official literature proclaims, adding, “And we remain committed to working with all branches of government to close the prison altogether because it is inconsistent with our national security interests and our values.”
Mitt Romney has also not spoken about Guantánamo on the campaign trail, although in 2007, while he was unsuccessfully seeking the Republican nomination, he said, during a debate on Fox News, that “we ought to double Guantánamo.”
Sadly, although Guantánamo has dropped off the radar, despite being a permanent source of shame for all Americans who respect the rule of law, torture, it seems, is back as a topic of discussion. Read the rest of this entry »
Exactly ten years ago, two memos written by John Yoo, a lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, were signed by his immediate boss, Jay S. Bybee. In these two memos, Yoo, also a law professor at UC Berkeley, attempted to redefine torture so that it could be used on Abu Zubaydah, an alleged “high-value detainee” seized in the “war on terror,” even though the US is a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture, which prohibits the use of torture under any circumstances.
These two memos, generally known as the Bybee memos, but forever known to anyone with a conscience as the “torture memos,” marked the start of an official torture program that will forever be a black mark on America’s reputation — as well as providing cover for torturers worldwide, and turning America into such a dubious and lawless nation that President Obama and his administration have shied away form holding any of their predecessors accountable for their actions, and have swallowed the Bush administration’s rhetoric about a “war on terror” to such an extent that, although torture has been officially repudiated, the administration has presided over a massive increase in the use of unmanned drones to assassinate those regarded as a threat, without any judicial process, and in countries with which the US is not at war, including US citizens.
In an article to follow soon, I will examine this anniversary more closely, but for now I wanted to make sure that I marked it in some manner, having been away at the WOMAD world music festival for most of the run-up to it, and I’m delighted to use the occasion to cross-post an op-ed from the Los Angeles Times written by Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of the military commissions at Guantánamo, who resigned five years ago, when he was placed in a chain of command under William J. Haynes II, the Pentagon’s General Counsel, and one of the main drivers of the torture program. Read the rest of this entry »
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