For Ramadan, Please Write to the Prisoners in Guantánamo, Forgotten Again

Every six months, I ask people to write to the prisoners in Guantánamo, to let them — and the US authorities — know that they have not been forgotten.

The letter-writing campaign was started four years ago by two Facebook friends, Shahrina J. Ahmed and Mahfuja Bint Ammu, and it has been repeated every six months (see here, here, here, here, here and here). This latest campaign also coincides with the holy month of Ramadan, which began on June 29.

Guantánamo remains a legal, moral and ethical abomination, a place where the men still held — 149 in total — are, for the most part, indefinitely imprisoned without charge or trial, even though over half of them — 75 men — were cleared for release in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force established by President Obama when he took office in 2009, and three others were cleared for release in recent months by a new review process, the Periodic Review Boards.

In 2010, the task force recommended who to release, who to prosecute, and who to continue holding without charge or trial, on the extremely dubious basis that they were “too dangerous to release,” even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. What this means, of course, is that the supposed evidence is no such thing, and consists largely of extremely unreliable statements made either by the prisoners themselves, or their fellow prisoners, in circumstances that were not conducive to telling the truth — involving the use of torture, for example, or other forms of abuse, and in some cases, bribery, when prisoners told lies to secure favorable treatment. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Lawyers Urge Obama Administration to Approve Release of Six Men to Uruguay

Lawyers for six prisoners at Guantánamo — four Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian, who have long been cleared for release from the prison, but are unable to return home — sent a letter to the Obama administration on Thursday calling for urgent action regarding their clients. I’m posting the full text of the letter below.

It’s now over three months since President José Mujica of Uruguay announced that he had been approached by the Obama administration regarding the resettlement of five men — later expanded to six — and was willing to offer new homes to them. I wrote about the story here, where I also noted that one of the men is Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian man, consigned to a wheelchair as a result of his suffering at Guantánamo. Dhiab is on a hunger strike and being force-fed, and has, in recent months, mounted a prominent legal challenge to his treatment, securing access for his lawyers to videotapes showing his force-feeding and violent cell extractions. The other Syrians are Abdelhadi Faraj (aka Abdulhadi Faraj), Ali Hussein al-Shaaban and Ahmed Adnan Ahjam, the Palestinian is Mohammed Taha Mattan (aka Mohammed Tahamuttan), and the Tunisian, whose identity is revealed for the first time, is Adel El-Ouerghi (aka Abdul Ourgy (ISN 502)).

All six men were cleared for release from the prison in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama appointed shortly after taking office in 2009, and in their letter the lawyers provided detailed explanations of how the deal has progressed since first being mooted late last year and how it appeared to be confirmed months ago, before it had first been mentioned publicly. “In February,” they wrote, “some or us were informed that, while it was not possible to ascertain precisely when transfer would occur, it was ‘a matter of weeks, not months.’” Read the rest of this entry »

Saudi Prisoner Muhammad Al-Zahrani Seeks Release from Guantánamo via Periodic Review Board

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.

Last week, largely unnoticed in the mainstream media, a Periodic Review Board (PRB) took place — at a military location in Virginia — for Muhammad Murdi lssa al-Zahrani, one of the last Saudi nationals held in the prison, who joined the board — and was visible to the handful of media representatives in attendance — via video link from Guantánamo. 44 or 45 years old, he was seized in a house raid in Lahore, Pakistan, at the end of March 2002.

The PRBs — which involve 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 last year to review the cases of 71 prisoners designated for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial — or for trials that were later dropped — in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama appointed shortly after taking office in 2009.

Those prisoners who were designated for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial had those designations made on the basis that they were “too dangerous to release,” even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial — highlighting, to acute observers, that there are fundamental problems with the so-called evidence. Read the rest of this entry »

“I Had Trouble Sleeping,” Lawyer Says After Viewing Guantánamo Force-Feeding Videos

On the weekend of June 14/15, as I explained in an article last week, lawyers for Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner at Guantánamo who is on a hunger strike and being force-fed, began watching videos of their client’s force-feeding and “forcible cell extractions” — when prisoners are violently removed from their cells by a riot squad — which a US judge, District Judge Gladys Kessler, had ordered to be released to the lawyers a month ago. It is important to note that, previously, no lawyer for the prisoners has ever been allowed to view videotapes of force-feeding or violent cell extractions.

Prior to viewing the videos — at a “secure facility” run by the Pentagon in Virginia, where lawyers have to go to view any classified documentation related to their clients — Cori Crider of Reprieve,the legal action charity whose lawyers represent Dhiab, along with Jon B. Eisenberg in the US, described how she expected the content of the tapes “to be upsetting.”

After viewing them, Crider delivered a powerful statement about how disturbing the tapes are. “While I’m not allowed to discuss the contents of these videos, I can say that I had trouble sleeping after viewing them,” she said, adding, “I have no doubt that if President Obama forced himself to watch them, he would release my client tomorrow.” Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: Vigil for Julian Assange outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, on the 2nd Anniversary of his Asylum Request, June 19, 2014

Please click here to see my photos of the vigil on Flickr.

On Thursday June 19, 2014, supporters of Julian Assange held a vigil outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in Knightsbridge in London (just behind Harrods), which I attended and photographed.

Supporters of the WikiLeaks founder and editor-in-chief have been holding vigils almost every day since he walked into the embassy seeking political asylum on June 19, 2012. He feared that he would end up being extradited to the US from Sweden, where he is accused of sexual offences (claims which he denies), and his asylum claim was accepted by the government of Ecuador on August 16, 2012.

WikiLeaks’ work, exposing US crimes through documents released by Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning — including the “Collateral Murder” video, featuring US personnel indiscriminately killing civilians and two Reuters reporters in Iraq, 500,000 army reports (the Afghan War logs and the Iraq War logs), 250,000 US diplomatic cables, and the Guantánamo files — has, of course, been enormously influential, and I am pleased to have worked with WikiLeaks as a media partner on the release of the classified military files from Guantánamo in April 2011. For further information, see my ongoing project to analyze all the files.

To mark the anniversary, Julian Assange released the following statement (I have added the links at the end): Read the rest of this entry »

Kuwaiti Prisoners Fawzi Al-Odah and Fayiz Al-Kandari Ask Periodic Review Board to Free Them from Guantánamo

Over the last few weeks, Periodic Review Boards have been held at Guantánamo for the last two Kuwaiti prisoners, Fawzi al-Odah and Fayiz al-Kandari, who have been held for the last 12 years.

The PRBs, consisting 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, have been taking place since last November, and were established to decide whether 71 of the remaining prisoners should still be regarded as a threat, or whether they should be recommended for release.

As opposed to the 75 men still held who were cleared for release by the Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009, these 71 men were either recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial (on the dubious basis that they were too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial) or for prosecution (until most of the charges in the military commission trial system collapsed following legal challenges). Both Fawzi and Fayiz were recommended for ongoing imprisonment by the task force. Read the rest of this entry »

Please Read Tom Wilner’s Op-Ed About the Bowe Bergdahl/Taliban Prisoner Swap

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.

It has been almost three weeks now since President Obama announced that five Taliban prisoners had been released from Guantánamo in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan, but the fallout from that prisoner exchange continues to cast a shadow over grown-up discussions about why the prison must be closed, and why every day that it remains open is a profound shame.

Below is an op-ed by Tom Wilner, the co-founder of the  “Close Guantánamo” campaign, which was recently published on the Warscapes website, following up on articles by Andy Worthington, the other co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, on PolicyMic, here and for Al-Jazeera.

The response to the prisoner exchange — which has been cynical, opportunistic and disgraceful — is well exposed by Tom in his article, in which he reminds readers of the limits of the detention powers used at Guantánamo (the Authorization for Use of Military Force), with particular reference to the Supreme Court’s ruling about detention powers, back in June 2004, when Justice Sandra Day O’Connor ruled that the US “may detain, for the duration of these hostilities, individuals legitimately determined to be Taliban combatants who ‘engaged in an armed conflict against the United States.’” Read the rest of this entry »

“It Is All Theater, It Is All A Game,” Yemeni “Forever Prisoner” Says from Guantánamo

It is, I believe, impossible to argues with the logic of Muaz al-Alawi, a Yemeni prisoner in Guantánamo, who recently told his lawyer, Ramzi Kassem, that, when attempting to make sense of Guantánamo, only one analysis is necessary: “It is all political,” al-Alawi told him. “It is all theater, it is all a game.”

The US has such disdain for the prisoners at Guantánamo that, 12 and a half years on from the prison’s opening, they are still identified by the names given to them at the time of their capture, by personnel unfamiliar with the languages of their home countries — Arabic, for example. As a result, al-Alawi is identified as Moath al-Alwi.

His comments, made to Kassem, an associate professor of law at the City University of New York who directs the Immigrant and Non-Citizen Rights Clinic, which represents prisoners at Guantánamo and elsewhere, were in the context of the manufactured hysteria regarding the release of five Taliban prisoners in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan, which I have written about here, here and here (and also see my Democracy Now! appearance). Read the rest of this entry »

Please Read My Latest Article About Guantánamo for Al-Jazeera, “Is Bowe Bergdahl Worth Five Taliban Prisoners?”

Dear friends and supporters,

I hope you have time to read my latest article for Al-Jazeera, “Is Bowe Bergdahl Worth Five Taliban Prisoners?” in which I provide an overview of the manufactured outrage over the last two weeks regarding the Obama administration’s release, in Qatar, of five Taliban prisoners in Guantánamo for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan, with particular reference to defense secretary Chuck Hagel’s appearance at a whistle Congressional hearing last week, in which he nevertheless defended the administration’s position.

Please like the article, share it, and tweet it if you find it useful.

As I explain, “lawmakers, with support from large parts of the media, have been waging a sustained attack on the Obama administration … accusing both the president and defence secretary Chuck Hagel of recklessness, incompetence and breaking the law in relation to the exchange.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Latest News on the Guantánamo Force-Feeding Videotapes, and the Prisoners’ Ongoing Legal Challenges

A month ago, a federal court judge, Gladys Kessler, delivered a historic ruling on Guantánamo, ordering the government to stop force-feeding a hunger striking prisoner, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, and to release to his lawyers videos of his force-feeding and “forcible cell extractions,” whose existence had only recently been discovered by one of his lawyers. She also ordered the government to release his medical records, and to “file a list of all current Standard Operating Procedures/Protocols directly addressing enteral feeding and/or the use of a restraint chair at Guantánamo Bay.”

Judge Kessler lifted her stay on Dhiab’s force-feeding just a few days later, fearing that otherwise he would die, but, with a precedent established regarding the release of videos, another prisoner, Mohammad Ahmad Ghulam Rabbani, a Pakistani father of three, who was held in CIA “black sites” before his transfer to Guantánamo in 2004, asked Judge Kessler’s court, the District Court for the District of Columbia, in Washington D.C., for a second ruling ordering the government to release videotapes of his force-feeding and “forcible cell extractions.”

As his lawyers at the legal action charity Reprieve described it, “The requested tapes are thought to document a period of particularly ‘gratuitous brutality,’ in which Mr. Rabbani contracted a chest infection as a result of botched force-feeding procedures, leading him to repeatedly vomit blood and lose consciousness.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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