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.
Also please sign and share the petition on Change.org urging renewed action from President Obama to close Guantánamo, which now has nearly 200,000 signatures!
As the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo begins its fourth month, we at “Close Guantánamo” are concerned that men will die unless President Obama follows up on his fine words last week with actions to match his understanding of why the prison’s continued existence is so wrong. As he said, it is “critical for us to understand that Guantánamo is not necessary to keep America safe. It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing. It lessens cooperation with our allies on counter-terrorism efforts. It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.”
To close Guantánamo, as we have been urging, the President needs to do three particular things:
Bringing the appalling injustice of Guantánamo to an end is, we believe, very much in America’s best interests. Read the rest of this entry »
Three weeks ago, as part of my ongoing coverage of the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, which is now in its fourth month, I published an account by Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, with one of the men that Reprieve’s lawyers represent in Guantánamo — Younus Chekhouri (also identified as Younous Chekkouri), a Moroccan, a Sufi Muslim, and one of the 86 prisoners cleared for release from Guantánamo as a result of the deliberations of a task force appointed by President Obama in 2009.
As I explained at the time, Younus’s story “has long fascinated me, as he has always been one of the most peaceful prisoners in Guantánamo, and has always categorically refuted all the allegations against him that relate to terrorism and military activity.” I also explained how “I found his testimony from Guantánamo, in the tribunals and review boards that took place under President Bush, to be both compelling and credible.”
Below is the description of him that I included in a series of articles about the remaining prisoners in Guantánamo back in 2010, which I posted previously but am posting again because it explains who he is, rather than who the US authorities thought he was:
Chekhouri is accused of being a founder member of the Moroccan Islamic Fighting Group (or GICM, the Groupe Islamique Combattant Marocain), who had a training camp near Kabul, but he has always maintained that he traveled to Afghanistan in 2001, with his Algerian wife, after six years in Pakistan, where he had first traveled in search of work and education, and has stated that they lived on the outskirts of Kabul, working for a charity that ran a guest house and helped young Moroccan immigrants, and had no involvement whatsoever in the country’s conflicts. He has also repeatedly explained that he was profoundly disillusioned by the fighting amongst Muslims that has plagued Afghanistan’s recent history, and he has also expressed his implacable opposition to the havoc wreaked on the country by Osama bin Laden, describing him as “a crazy person,” and adding that “what he does is bad for Islam.” Read the rest of this entry »
As the prison-wide hunger strike continues at Guantánamo, the danger — following President Obama’s news conference last week, when he finally deigned to talk about Guantánamo — is that the mainstream media will think, as they did in 2009, that merely talking about the prison in a critical manner is equivalent to closing it.
The truth, four years on, is that the situation at Guantánamo is so horrendous that no prisoners are being released, even though 86 of the remaining 166 men were cleared for release by an inter-agency task force, appointed by President Obama, which issued its final report over three years ago.
56 of those prisoners — who include 26 Yemenis — are identified here. 30 others, whose names are not included, are also Yemenis, whose release was made contingent on a perceived improvement in the security situation in Yemen. The task force gave no indication of how this decision would be made, and who would take it, but in the event all the Yemenis had their release blocked by President Obama, following a failed bomb attempt by a Nigerian man recruited in Yemen, on Christmas Day 2009. Read the rest of this entry »
As the prison-wide hunger strike continues at Guantánamo, having reached the three-month mark on Sunday, it is more important than ever that the voices of the prisoners continue to be heard, to maintain the pressure on the Obama administration to act.
For meaningful action to be taken, President Obama needs to find ways to release the 86 men (out of 166 prisoners in total) who were cleared for release by the sober and responsible inter-agency task force he appointed to review the prisoners’ cases in 2009.
Two-thirds of these men are Yemenis, so the President needs to drop his ban on releasing any of these men, which he imposed in response to hysteria following the foiled Christmas bomb plot in 2009, when a Nigerian man recruited in Yemen tried and failed to bomb a plane bound for the US with a device in his underwear.
As I wrote in response to President Obama’s discussion of Guantánamo at a news conference last week, he can choose to tackle Congress — as he said he would — and to tell lawmakers that they need to drop the obstructions they have raised to prevent the release of prisoners over the last two years — in the National Defense Authorization Act. However, if Congress refuses to engage with him, he needs to use the waiver in the NDAA, which allows him to bypass Congress if he and the defense secretary regard it as being in America’s best interests.
Releasing men already cleared for release from the abominable open tomb that is Guantánamo — where all the prisoners are suffering indefinite detention without charge or trial, whether cleared for release or not — needs to happen as soon as possible, before some poor soul in Guantánamo dies. That, I am compelled to say, would most emphatically not be in America’s best interests. Read the rest of this entry »
UPDATE MAY 7: It has just been confirmed that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will now be taking part in this event, via video link from the Ecuadorian Embassy, from 7.30 to 8.15pm.
It’s almost three years since Pfc. Bradley Manning, who had been working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq, was arrested by the US military and imprisoned in Kuwait for allegedly making available — to the campaigning organization WikiLeaks — the largest collection of classified documents ever leaked to the public, including the “Collateral Murder” video, featuring US personnel indiscriminately killing civilians in Iraq, 500,000 army reports (the Afghan War logs and the Iraq War logs), 250,000 US diplomatic cables, and the classified military files relating to the Guantánamo prisoners, which were released in April 2011, and on which I worked as a media partner (see here for the first 34 parts of my 70-part, million-word series analyzing the Guantánamo files).
In July 2010, Manning was transferred to the Marine Corps Brig, Quantico, Virginia, where the conditions of his confinement began to cause international concern. I first wrote about his case in December 2010, when he was being held in solitary confinement, in an article entitled, “Is Bradley Manning Being Held as Some Sort of “Enemy Combatant”?” and I followed his story into 2011, and his transfer to less contentious conditions of confinement in Fort Leavenworth on April 20, just five days before WikiLeaks released the Guantánamo files.
In the last two years, I have largely deferred to other writers, researchers and activists, dedicated to Bradley Manning’s story, to cover developments in his case, particularly relating to a series of pre-trial hearings. His trial begins on June 3 (preceded by an international day of action on June 1), and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to revisit his story this Wednesday, May 8, at an event in London organized by Naomi Colvin and Katia Michaels, at which I am honoured to be sharing a stage with Chase Madar, the author of The Passion of Bradley Manning, and Ben Griffin, a former SAS soldier and conscientious objector. Read the rest of this entry »
On Tuesday, President Obama gave his first detailed response to the prison-wide hunger strike that has been raging at Guantánamo for twelve weeks, responding to a question posed at a news conference by CBS News correspondent Bill Plante, who asked, “As you’re probably aware, there’s a growing hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay among prisoners. Is it any surprise really that they would prefer death rather than have no end in sight to their confinement?”
The question, presumably, was allowed because the President had decided that he could no longer avoid discussing the hunger strike that, at any moment, could result in the death of one of the many men starving themselves to focus the world’s attention on their plight. According to the government, 100 men of the remaining 166 prisoners are on a hunger strike, although the prisoners say the true number is 130.
Precipitated by the deployment of a new and aggressive guard force at Guantánamo, who manhandled the prisoners’ Korans during searches of the men’s cells that were of unusual intensity, the hunger strike began on February 6 and rapidly became a focal point for the prisoners’ despair at having been abandoned by all three branches of the US government, and by the mainstream media.
Although 86 of the remaining prisoners were cleared for release from Guantánamo by an inter-agency task force that President Obama established when he took office in January 2009 (when he promised to close Guantánamo within a year), they are still held because of obstructions raised by the President himself, and by Congress. Read the rest of this entry »
With the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo nearing the end of its third month (on Sunday), and even President Obama finally breaking his silence at a news conference on Tuesday — condemning the ongoing existence of the prison, but offering little in the way of solutions — I have been very busy with media appearances, as the mainstream media has woken up to the chronic injustice of Guantánamo in a convincing manner that — dare I say it — shows no sign of going away, as has the general public.
If you haven’t already signed it, please sign the petition calling for President Obama to close Guantánamo, which was launched this week by Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of the military commissions, who resigned in protest at the Bush administration’s use of torture. In just a few days, the petition has already secured over 125,000 signatures, showing a depth of concern for the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo that has been imaginable for the last few years.
This is entirely appropriate, of course, as 166 men languish in Guantánamo, abandoned by all three branches of the US government — President Obama and his administration, Congress and the courts — including the 86 who were cleared for release at least three years ago by an inter-agency task force established the President Obama himself. Read the rest of this entry »
As the prison-wide hunger strike in Guantánamo continues (sign the petition calling for its closure here!), nearly three months since the majority of the 166 prisoners still held began refusing food, it is abundantly clear that, after several years in which, frankly, almost everyone had forgotten about Guantánamo or had given up on it, the prison — and the remaining 166 prisoners — are now back in the news and showing no signs of being as easily dismissed as they were three years ago, when everyone went silent after President Obama’s promise to close the prison within a year fizzled out dismally.
The need to exert concerted pressure on the Obama administration is more important than ever, because, until the prisoners appealed to the world by putting their lives on the line, President Obama had been content to abandon them, and had been encouraged to do so by Congress, where lawmakers had blocked all his attempts to close the prison, and had ended up imposing restrictions, in the National Defense Authorization Acts passed at the end of 2011 and 2012, that made it almost impossible to release any prisoners.
In the last week, the editors of the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Guardian have all published powerful editorials calling for the closure of Guantánamo, which I’m cross-posting below. The first, on April 26, was the New York Times editorial, which delivered crushing words to President Bush as he sought to reclaim his legacy with the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum about his prison which “should never have been opened,” and which “became the embodiment of his dangerous expansion of executive power and the lawless detentions, secret prisons and torture that went along with them.” Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
Yesterday — April 30 — was a big day for Guantánamo coverage, as the BBC decided to provide extensive coverage of the ongoing hunger strike, now on its 84th day — and the ethical problems regarding the force-feeding of mentally competent prisoners — across a number of TV and radio shows.
I was contacted a few days ago by BBC World News, and asked to appear on the lunchtime news with George Alagiah, and on Monday evening I also received a request to appear on Newsday, on the World Service, at 7am. That show is available here (for the next six days) and my brief interview took place in a segment that began about 12 and a half minutes into the 90-minute show.
I then received another call, from World have Your Say, also on the World Service, asking me to appear on that show as well, and after I rolled up at the BBC at 11.30, I was shuttled around from the World Service to the rather roomy sound stage occupied by BBC World News, where I had a few minutes’ chat with George Alagiah. I can’t find that interview anywhere online, but the World Have Your Say interview is available here, in which Aisha Maniar of the London Guantánamo Campaign was also a guest, and our segment begins 19 minutes into the 26-minute show. Read the rest of this entry »
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