On Omar Khadr’s 29th Birthday, Bail Conditions Eased; Allowed to Visit Grandparents, and Electronic Tag Removed

Omar Khadr photographed after his release on bail in Canada in May 2015.Today (September 19) is the 29th birthday of former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Khadr, and it is, I think, fair to say that it will be his best birthday since before he was seized by US forces after a firefight in Afghanistan, where he had been taken by his father, in July 2002, when he was just 15 years old. Treated brutally in US custody, he ended up agreeing to a plea deal in a trial by military commission, in October 2010, just to get out of Guantánamo and to return home. As a result of his plea deal, he received an eight-year sentence, with one year to be served in Guantánamo, and the rest in Canada.

In the end, the Canadian government — which has persistently violated his rights, and unconditionally backed the US in its outrageous treatment of a juvenile prisoner, who was supposed to be rehabilitated rather then punished — dragged its heels securing his return, which eventually took place in September 2012. He was then — unfairly and unjustly — imprisoned in a maximum-security prison until that decision was eventually overturned, and in May a judge granted him bail, pending the outcome of an appeal against his conviction in the US.

So this birthday — the one I expect he will be enjoying to the full — is the first he has spent in freedom since his 15th birthday, back in 2001, and yesterday he received some good news regarding the restrictions under which he was granted bail back in May that can only be adding to his enjoyment today. Read the rest of this entry »

Fears for Guantánamo Prisoner Released in Morocco But Held Incommunicado in a Secret Location

Guantanamo prisoner Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), repatriated to Morocco on September 16, 2015 (Photo collage by Reprieve).Reprieve, the international human rights organization whose lawyers represent prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay, has just learned that one of its clients, Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), a 47-year old Moroccan national, has been repatriated to Morocco, but is being held incommunicado and in a secret location.

In a press release, Reprieve notes that its representatives “have been unable to meet or speak to him since the US handed him to Moroccan authorities. He is being held in an unknown location, and has not been allowed so far to contact his local lawyer, in apparent violation of Moroccan law.”

They also add that they are “increasingly concerned for the safety and well-being” of their client.

I have covered Younous’ story many times over the years. See my archive here, and see this love letter that he wrote to his wife last year. Also see “My Road to Guantánamo,” published by Vice News last November, in which he told the story of his capture and explained why he did not wish to return to Morocco and was seeking a third country to offer him a new home — a wish that has obviously been ignored by the US authorities. Read the rest of this entry »

Seriously Ill Libyan Approved for Release from Guantánamo by Periodic Review Board

Guantanamo prisoner Omar Mohammed Khalifh in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Back in June, Omar Mohammed Khalifh (ISN 695, identified by the US authorities as Omar Khalif Mohammed Abu Baker or Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr), a Libyan prisoner (and an amputee) at Guantánamo who is 42 or 43 years old, underwent a Periodic Review Board to ascertain whether he should be recommended for release or continue to be held without charge or trial, as I wrote about here, and on August 20 he was recommended for release, although that information was not made publicly available until last week.

In its Unclassified Summary of Final Determination, the review board stated that, “by consensus,” they “determined that continued law of war detention of the detainee does not remain necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

The PRBs, which are made up of representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were established in 2013 to review the cases of the “forever prisoners,” 48 men who were designated for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that was appointed by President Obama in 2009 to review the cases of all the prisoners still held at the time to decide whether they should be released or put on trial, or whether they should continue to be held without charge or trial. Read the rest of this entry »

“The More We Get Close to What We Want, The Farther It Goes”: Shaker Aamer’s Endlessly Thwarted Hope of Being Released from Guantánamo

Jeremy Corbyn MP supporting We Stand With Shaker in October 2014 (Photo: Andy Worthington).On Saturday, Jeremy Corbyn, a prominent supporter in Parliament of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, was elected, by a landslide, as the leader of the Labour Party, something that was unimaginable just three months ago. Jeremy is a member of the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, and in May he visited Washington D.C. with three of his Parliamentary colleagues, to meet with Senators and representatives of the Obama administration, to try and secure Shaker’s release.

The Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group was established last November by John McDonnell MP, Jeremy’s close friend and colleague on the left of the Party, who, yesterday, was appointed by Jeremy as Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Shaker now has two prominent supporters in previously unexpected high-profile positions, and I hope this fact is not lost on the Obama administration, which continues to hold Shaker needlessly. Cleared for release in 2007 (under George W. Bush) and again in 2009 under President Obama, he could be released in a month’s time if the will existed to free him, 30 days being the amount of time that lawmakers in Congress have required the defense secretary to give them before freeing any prisoner.

Other supporters of Shaker in the shadow cabinet are Diane Abbott, the shadow secretary of state for international development, and Ian Murray, the shadow secretary of state for Scotland, and while we wait to see how the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn will raise Shaker’s case (which I’m sure will happen soon), I’m cross-posting below an article about Shaker that was published in the Mail on Sunday, written by Ramzi Kassem, a professor at the City University of New York School of Law, who I have known for many years — and have also spoken with on occasion. 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 »

Labour Frontrunner Jeremy Corbyn Joins Cross-Party Signatories on Early Day Motion Calling for Shaker Aamer’s Release from Guantánamo

The delegation of MPs from the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group meeting Sen. John McCain in May in Washington D.C. From L to R: Andy Slaughter, Andrew Mitchell, John McCain, David Davis and Jeremy Corbyn.Today, following a meeting of the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group yesterday, which I attended, as the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, it was decided that an Early Day Motion would be submitted by Andrew Mitchell MP (Con., Sutton Coldfield), calling for the Obama administration to release Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, from the prison, and to return him to the UK, to rejoin his family in London.

Andrew is one of four MPs from the All-Party Parliamentary Group who visited Washington D.C. in May to try to secure Shaker’s release. When the EDM was submitted, it was also signed by the other three MPs from the delegation — Jeremy Corbyn (Lab., Islington North), the frontrunner in the Labour leadership campaign, David Davis (Con., Haltemprice and Howden), the co-chair of the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, and Andy Slaughter (Lab., Hammersmith).

Showing the breadth of cross-party support demonstrated by the campaign to get Shaker released, Andrew also secured the support of Tim Farron (Liberal Democrat, Westmorland and Lonsdale), the new leader of the Liberal Democrats, who spoke at the Parliamentary debate for Shaker in March, and Alex Salmond (Scottish National Party, Gordon), the former leader of the SNP, and early signatories to the EDM were John McDonnell (Lab., Hayes and Harlington), the co-chair of the Parliamentary Group, who established the group last November, Dominic Grieve (Con., Beaconsfield), the former Attorney General, and Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion), who has been a supporter from the beginning. Read the rest of this entry »

Quarterly Fundraiser Day 3: Still Seeking $3000 (£2000) to Support My Guantánamo Work

Andy Worthington at the Independence from America protest organised by the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases (CAAB) at RAF Menwith Hill on July 4, 2013.Please support my work!

Dear friends and supporters,

I’m currently trying to raise $3000 (£2000) to support my work on Guantánamo — including the We Stand With Shaker campaign — for the next three months. If you appreciate what I do, any donation, however large or small — $25, $100 or $500, or any amount in any other currency — will be very gratefully received, as most of what I do is only possible because it’s funded by you, my readers and supporters.

If you can help out at all, please click on the “Donate” button above to donate via PayPal. You don’t need to be a PayPal member to use PayPal, and PayPal will convert any currency you pay into dollars.

You can also make a recurring payment on a monthly basis by ticking the box marked, “Make This Recurring (Monthly),” and if you are able to do so, it would be very much appreciated. If you make a recurring payment of at least $15 a month, or if you make a one-off donation of $200 or more, I’ll send you a free copy of my band The Four Fathers’ debut album, ‘Love and War’, on CD. The album includes six original songs of mine, including ‘Song for Shaker Aamer’, featured in the campaign video for We Stand With Shaker, and ’81 Million Dollars’, about the US torture program. Read the rest of this entry »

Former Guantánamo Prisoner Omar Khadr Asks for Bail Conditions to be Eased So He Can Visit His Family

Former Guantanamo prisoner Omar Khadr speaking to the media after his release from prison on bail on May 7, 2015. Photo made available by Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star on Twitter.The former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Khadr, who was freed on bail in May, after spending two years and eight months in Canadian prisons (and nearly ten years in Guantánamo), has asked a Canadian court to ease his bail conditions, so he can fly to Toronto to visit his family, attend a night course at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), and get to early morning prayers.

As the Canadian Press described it, he was granted bail “pending his appeal in the US against his 2010 conviction for war crimes by a widely discredited military commission at Guantánamo Bay” — “widely discredited” being something of an understatement.

Although no one has ever disputed the fact that Omar was a model prisoner, and has not been in any trouble since being freed from prison and allowed to live with his lawyer Dennis Edney and his wife, the bail conditions are harsh. As the Canadian Press described it, he is “required to communicate with his family … only in English and under the Edneys’ supervision,” and is not allowed to leave Alberta, except to stay at Edney’s vacation home in British Columbia. Read the rest of this entry »

Quarterly Fundraiser: Seeking $3500 (£2300) for My Guantánamo Work

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).Please support my work!

Dear friends and supporters,

Every three months, I ask you, if you can, to make a donation to support my work on Guantánamo and related issues — accountability for torture, for example, and the We Stand With Shaker campaign, the specific campaign to free Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, which I launched last November with the activist Joanne MacInnes. I’m hoping to raise $3,500 (£2,300) for the next three months, which is just $270 (£180) a week for my constant advocacy and campaigning on behalf of the Guantánamo prisoners.

As my work is primarily reader-funded (I receive no outside funding for this website, or for my work on the We Stand With Shaker campaign), any amount will be gratefully received, whether it is $25, $100 or $500 — or any amount in any other currency (£15, £60 or £300, for example). PayPal will convert any currency you pay into dollars.

If you can help out at all, please click on the “Donate” button above to donate via PayPal (and I should add that you don’t need to be a PayPal member to use PayPal).

You can also make a recurring payment on a monthly basis by ticking the box marked, “Make This Recurring (Monthly),” and if you are able to do so, it would be very much appreciated. If you make a recurring payment of at least $15 a month, or if you make a one-off donation of $200 or more, I’ll send you a free copy of my band The Four Fathers’ debut album, ‘Love and War’, on CD. The album includes six original songs of mine, including ‘Song for Shaker Aamer’, featured in the campaign video for We Stand With Shaker, and ’81 Million Dollars’, about the US torture program. Read the rest of this entry »

Life After Guantánamo: Attorney Tells the Story of a Father and Son Freed, But Separated By 1,850 Miles

Former Guantanamo prisoner Muhammed Khantumani is one of the four boys in this photo, taken many years before his eight-year ordeal in Guantanamo. The photo is a screenshot from an interview on Democracy Now with his lawyer, Pardiss Kebriaei of the Center for Constitutional Rights.Back in 2006, when I began working full-time on Guantánamo, researching the stories of the men held there for my book The Guantánamo Files, which was published in September 2007, the main research I undertook involved a detailed analysis of 8,000 pages of documents relating to the prisoners that had been released in 2006 as a result of freedom of information submissions and federal lawsuits submitted by the Associated Press.

The documents consisted primarily of unclassified allegations against the prisoners and transcripts of various review processes — the Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) and Administrative Review Boards (ARBs) — that had been conducted from 2004 onwards, purportedly to establish the status of the prisoners, although these processes were so one-sided and what passed for evidence was generally so poor that, as the AP put it, all the transcripts generally revealed about the prisoners was “the often vague reasons the United States used for locking them up.”

Also included in the releases by the Pentagon were the first ever lists of the prisoners that had been made public, and, although all the files released required significant cross-referencing to create a coherent account of all the prisoners held at Guantánamo, past and present, I was able, over a period of 14 months, to do just that, producing the first — and still the only — comprehensive account of all the prisoners who, in such a cavalier and unsubstantiated manner, had been described by the Bush administration as “the worst of the worst.”

The overwhelming majority of the men held — I would say as many as 97 percent of the 779 men held throughout Guantánamo’s history (of whom 116 remain) — had no involvement with terrorism, and were either humble foot soldiers for the Taliban or civilians unlucky enough to be in the wrong time and the wrong place while the US was handing out substantial bounty payments to its Afghan and Pakistani allies for anyone who could be packaged up as being involved with al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Campaigning investigative journalist and commentator, author, filmmaker, photographer, singer-songwriter and Guantánamo expert
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