Playing Politics with the Closure of Guantánamo

A campaigner reminds President Obama of his promise to close Guantanamo on January 11, 2013, the 11th anniversary of the opening of the prison (Photo: Andy Worthington).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.

Supporters of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign have long been aware that the very existence of the “war on terror” prison at the US naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba is an affront to all notions that the United States respects justice and the rule of law, and we remember that as the closure of the prison becomes, yet again, an undignified game of political football, with Congress continuing to erect obstacles to the release of prisoners and the transfer of anyone to the US mainland for any reason, and the Obama administration trying to come up with a workable plan for the prison’s closure.

Although Congress, the week after the 9/11 attacks, passed a law — the Authorization for Use of Military Force — that purports to justify the detention of prisoners without charge or trial at Guantánamo, and the Supreme Court ruled in June 2004 that the government can hold them until the end of hostilities, this thin legal veneer has persistently failed to disguise the fact that everything about Guantánamo is wrong.

The Bush administration established the prison to be beyond the reach of the US courts, and for nearly two and a half years the men — and boys — held there had no rights whatsoever. In a second decision delivered in June 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that they had habeas corpus rights, a decision that allowed lawyers into the prison, breaking the veil of secrecy that had shrouded the prison for all that time, enabling torture and other forms of abuse to take place. Even so, it was not until June 2006 that the Supreme Court, in another ruling, reminded the administration that no one can be held without rights, and that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits torture and “humiliating and degrading treatment,” applied to everyone in US custody. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers Play “81 Million Dollars” About the US Torture Program, Calling for Bush, Cheney and Others to be Held Accountable

Richard Clare and Andy Worthington of The Four Fathers play '81 Million Dollars', Andy's song about the US torture program, in a screenshot from a video.To coincide with some renewed activity in connection with the Bush administration’s torture program — namely, the ACLU suing James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the former military psychologists who set up the program — I’m taking the opportunity to make available a video of my song ‘81 Million Dollars‘ about the torture program, and about Mitchell and Jessen.

$81m is the amount Mitchell and Jessen were paid for taking their experience as psychologists involved in the US military’s SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) program — which involved subjecting US personnel to torture to prepare them if they were seized by a hostile enemy — and reverse-engineering it for use in real-life situations, something for which they were abjectly unqualified.

The result, as the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s CIA torture report made clear last December, was unspeakably brutal and pointless, producing no information that could not have been produced without the use of torture. It also involved the CIA lying about its actions.

See below for the video, of myself and Richard Clare of my band The Four Fathers, playing the song last month while my friend Todd Pierce (the former military defense attorney who represented Guantánamo prisoners in their military commission trials) was staying with me. Please note also that the version by the full band is available here on Bandcamp, where those interested can buy it for just 60p ($0.93), or as part of the whole of our album ‘Love and War’ — as a download or on CD. Read the rest of this entry »

14 Years After 9/11, It’s Time for Guantánamo to Be Closed

Campaigners with Witness Against Torture occupy the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. on January 11, 2014, the 12th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo (Photo: Andy Worthington).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.

14 years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it is time to take stock of what has — or hasn’t — been achieved, and what the cost has been for America’s standing in the world, how it sees itself and its values.

Unfortunately, an honest audit delivers an alarming response. As Tom Engelhardt has written in “Mantra for 9/11: Fourteen Years Later, Improbable World,” an article to mark the anniversary:

Fourteen years of wars, interventions, assassinations, torture, kidnappings, black sites, the growth of the American national security state to monumental proportions, and the spread of Islamic extremism across much of the Greater Middle East and Africa. Fourteen years of astronomical expense, bombing campaigns galore, and a military-first foreign policy of repeated defeats, disappointments, and disasters. Fourteen years of a culture of fear in America, of endless alarms and warnings, as well as dire predictions of terrorist attacks. Fourteen years of the burial of American democracy (or rather its recreation as a billionaire’s playground and a source of spectacle and entertainment but not governance). Fourteen years of the spread of secrecy, the classification of every document in sight, the fierce prosecution of whistleblowers, and a faith-based urge to keep Americans “secure” by leaving them in the dark about what their government is doing. Fourteen years of the demobilization of the citizenry. Fourteen years of the rise of the warrior corporation, the transformation of war and intelligence gathering into profit-making activities, and the flocking of countless private contractors to the Pentagon, the NSA, the CIA, and too many other parts of the national security state to keep track of. Fourteen years of our wars coming home in the form of PTSD, the militarization of the police, and the spread of war-zone technology like drones and stingrays to the “homeland.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Watch Spike Lee’s “When the Levees Broke” for the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, When US Racism Was Openly Revealed

The heavily flooded Ninth Ward of New Orleans 10 days after Hurricane Katrina, September 2005 (Photo: Kathy Anderson, Times-Picayune).I remember, ten years ago, being profoundly shocked by the almost indescribably inept response of the Bush administration to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans on August 29, 2005, and thinking that it showed two things above all: firstly, that racism remained a horrendous blight on the nation, as it was New Orleans’ poor and black population that suffered the most, and that, I was convinced, would be socially cleansed as the clean-up began; and, secondly, that this is what happens when governments put private profit and the slashing of federal budgets before the common good.

I recall, in particular, the tens of thousands of displaced residents crammed into the Superdome in apocalyptic fashion, as though the US was some sort of failed state, and the incongruous images of soldiers with guns treating citizens as criminal suspects as a humanitarian disaster engulfed the city because of incidences of looting in some of the few parts of the city that were not drowning.

In all, the flooding from Hurricane Katrina led to about 80% of New Orleans being submerged. More than 400,000 residents were displaced out of a total population of about 470,000, and 1,800 people died across the whole of the Gulf Coast hit by the hurricane. The economic cost was around $100bn, but figures don’t reveal the human cost of the destroyed and displaced lives, or, indeed, the cost to the credibility of the Bush administration, which callously showed the American people and the world how little it cared about poor black people in New Orleans. Read the rest of this entry »

UN Says Force-Feeding at Guantánamo Constitutes Ill-Treatment in Violation of the Convention Against Torture

A powerful image from Witness Against Torture in the US.I’ve been so busy lately with the launch of We Stand With Shaker, the new campaign to secure the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, that I haven’t had time to write anything — until now — about the United States’ recent appearance before the United Nations Committee Against Torture to explain its position on the torture and ill-treatment of prisoners in its custody.

The session — which took place on November 12 and 13, and was the first US report to the Committee Against Torture since 2006, when George W. Bush was president — led to numerous criticisms in the Committee’s response, adopted on November 20; in the Guardian‘s words, of “indefinite detention without trial; force-feeding of Guantánamo prisoners; the holding of asylum seekers in prison-like facilities; widespread use of solitary confinement; excessive use of force and brutality by police; shootings of unarmed black individuals; and cruel and inhumane executions.”

The Committee was also concerned about the US record on torture, expressing “its grave concern over the extraordinary rendition, secret detention and interrogation programme operated by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) between 2001 and 2008, which involved numerous human rights violations, including torture, ill-treatment and enforced disappearance of persons suspected of involvement in terrorism-related crimes” — concerns expressed in a 2010 UN report about secret detention on which I was the lead author (and also see here, here and here) — and reminded the US about “the absolute prohibition of torture reflected in article 2, paragraph 2, of the Convention [Against Torture], stating that ‘no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.'” The Committee also called for the long-delayed Senate Intelligence Committee torture report — or, more accurately, its executive summary — to be issued without further delay. Read the rest of this entry »

The 9/11 Trial at Guantánamo: The Dark Farce Continues

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 two articles — this one and another to follow soon — I’ll be providing updates about the military commissions at Guantánamo, the system of trials that the Bush administration dragged from the US history books in November 2001 with the intention of trying, convicting and executing alleged terrorists without the safeguards provided in federal court trials, and without the normal prohibitions against the use of information derived through torture.

Notoriously, the first version of the commissions revived by the Bush administration collapsed in June 2006, when, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court ruled that the commission system lacked “the power to proceed because its structures and procedures violate both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the four Geneva Conventions signed in 1949.”

Nevertheless, Congress subsequently revived the commissions, in the fall of 2006, and, although President Obama briefly suspended them when he took office in 2009, they were revived by Congress for a second time in the fall of 2009. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo and Torture with Scott Horton

A few days ago, I was delighted to be interviewed by Scott Horton for his radio show. Scott and I first spoke about six and a half years ago, and have spoken numerous times since. Our latest half-hour interview is here, and I hope you have time to listen to it, and to share it if you find it useful.

This time around, Scott was interested in hearing the latest news from Guantánamo, but had also picked up on my recent article highlighting the fact that, on February 7, it was 12 years since President Bush issued a memo explaining that the Geneva Conventions didn’t apply to Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners seized in the “war on terror,” a memo that opened the floodgates to the use of torture.

This only officially came to an end after the Supreme Court reminded the Bush administration, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld in June 2006, that all prisoners — with no exceptions — are entitled to the protections of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit “cruel treatment and torture,” and “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.” Even then, although the CIA’s torture program came to an end, torture techniques migrated immediately to the Army Field Manual, which was reissued with the addition of Appendix M, containing those techniques. Read the rest of this entry »

Torture Began at Guantánamo with Bush’s Presidential Memo 12 Years Ago

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.

This is a grim time of year for anniversaries relating to Guantánamo. Two days ago, February 6, was the first anniversary of the start of last year’s prison-wide hunger strike, which woke the world up to the ongoing plight of the prisoners — over half of whom were cleared for release by a Presidential task force over four years ago but are still held.

The hunger strike — which, it should be noted, resumed at the end of last year, and currently involves dozens of prisoners — forced President Obama to promise to resume releasing prisoners, after a three-year period in which the release of prisoners had almost ground to a halt, because of opposition in Congress, and President Obama’s unwillingness to overcome that opposition, even though he had the power to do so.

To mark the anniversary, a number of NGOs — the ACLU, Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights First and Human Rights Watch — launched a campaign on Thursday, “Take a Stand for Justice,” encouraging people to call the White House (on 202-456-1111) to declare their support for President Obama’s recent call for Guantánamo to be closed for good (in his State of the Union address, he said, “With the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantánamo Bay”). Please call the White House if you can, and share the page via social media. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo’s 12th Anniversary and Accountability for Torture with Scott Horton and Peter B. Collins

On Wednesday (November 13), the media, inspired by an article for the Guardian by Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of the military commissions at Guantánamo, who has become a formidable critic of the prison since his resignation six years ago, picked up on a baleful anniversary — the 12th anniversary of the creation of one of the main founding documents of the Bush administration’s “war on terror.”

I subsequently spoke to Scott Horton on his hard-hitting political show, the latest in the dozens of interviews with Scott that I have taken part in over the last six years. The half-hour show is available here as an MP3, and I hope you have time to listen to it.

Scott described the show as follows: “Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files, discusses how Dick Cheney helped make torture an official US government policy; former Guantanamo inmate Omar Khadr’s fight for justice in a Canadian prison; and how torture has poisoned America’s soul.”

As Scott explained, we did indeed talk about how Omar Khadr, and his appeal against his outrageous 2010 conviction for war crimes (which I wrote about here), as well as also discussing the need for accountability for all of the senior Bush administration officials (up to and including George  W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld) and their lawyers, who approved the use of torture. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Culture of Impunity Part Two – Andy Worthington on Bush’s War Crimes, Bradley Manning and Guantánamo

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 »

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Andy Worthington

Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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