On Wednesday, with exactly one year left until the end of Barack Obama’s presidency, two more prisoners were released from Guantánamo, leaving 91 men still held. A third man was supposed to have been freed, but he refused at the last minute.
One of the two men freed, Tariq al-Sawah (ISN 535), also identified as Tariq El-Sawah, who is 58 years old, had gained some notoriety in the past — first as a disillusioned former training camp instructor who had become a welcome informant in Guantánamo, and then as he became seriously overweight, endangering his health. At one point, he weighted 420 pounds, double his weight on arrival at the prison in 2002.
In 2013, as his lawyers sought his release because of his ill-health and his cooperation, I explained how he “had high-level support for his release,” having “received letters of recommendation from three former Guantánamo commanders,” as the Associated Press described it. I stated, “One, Rear Adm. David Thomas, recommended his release in his classified military file (his Detainee Assessment Brief) in September 2008, which was released by WikiLeaks in 2011 … In that file, al-Sawah’s health issues were also prominent. It was noted that he was ‘closely watched for significant and chronic problems’ that included high cholesterol, diabetes and liver disease.” Read the rest of this entry »
From January 8-18, I was in the US for a brief tour to highlight the importance of closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, coinciding with the 14th anniversary of the opening of the prison, on January 11. I visited Miami, Washington, D.C. and New York City, and videos of my various escapades can be found here, including appearing with my friend and supporter, the music legend Roger Waters, on Democracy Now!
I also took part in a number of radio shows, and am making those available below. I hope you have time to listen to them, and to share them if you find them useful. I’m keeping my description of them quite brief, as I’m snowed under with other Guantánamo-related work right now — in particular the launch of the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, a new initiative, via the Close Guantánamo campaign I set up with the US attorney Tom Wilner in 2012, asking people to print off a poster calling for President Obama to close Guantánamo before he leaves office in a year’s time, to photograph themselves standing with the poster, and to send it to us to put up on the website and to publicize via social media. I hope you will get involved!
On the morning of January 11, just before I took part in the annual protest outside the White House, and a panel discussion at New America, I spoke to Jerome McDonnell on his show “Worldview” on WBEZ 91.5 in Chicago. The show is available on Soundcloud, and is posted below, and this is how Jerome described it: Read the rest of this entry »
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 the photo here, former Guantánamo prisoner Shaker Aamer supports the new “Countdown to Close Guantánamo” initiative. See more on the Celebrity Photos page and also the Public Photos page, and please send in your own photos — see below for details!
January 20, 2016 marked the beginning of the last year of the Obama presidency, and tomorrow (January 22) marks the seventh anniversary of President Obama’s promise to close the lawless prison at Guantánamo Bay within a year, which he made on his second day in office in January 2009. To highlight the president’s last chance to fulfill his promise to close the prison, the “Close Guantánamo” campaign has launched a new initiative, the “Countdown to Close Guantánamo.”
The “Countdown to Close Guantánamo” encourages celebrities, lawmakers and concerned members of the public, from the US and around the world, to take photos of themselves holding signs counting down to the end of the Obama presidency, urging President Obama to close the prison before the inauguration of the next president on January 20, 2017.
Our first poster, reading, “President Obama, you have one year left to close Guantánamo,” was made available when the campaign launched, on Jan, 20. It is being followed, throughout the year, by posters counting down every 50 days — so “350 days” is on February 4, “300 days” will be on March 25, and so on.
As the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba begins its 15th year of operations, there has been a flurry of mainstream media interest, in part because 2016 is President Obama’s last year in office, and yet, when he was first inaugurated in January 2009, he promised to close Guantánamo within a year, an unfulfilled promise that is bound to tarnish his legacy unless he can make good on that promise in his last twelve months in office.
A major report was recently published by Reuters, which focused in particular on the ways in which the Pentagon has been obstructing the release of prisoners, as was clear from the title of the article by Charles Levinson and David Rohde: “Pentagon thwarts Obama’s effort to close Guantánamo.”
Blocking the release of 74-pound hunger striker Tariq Ba Odah
The article began with a damning revelation about Tariq Ba Odah, a Yemeni prisoner who has been on a hunger strike for seven years, and whose weight has dropped, alarmingly, to just 74 pounds (from 148 pounds on his arrival at the prison in 2002), and who is at risk of death. Ba Odah has been unsuccessful in his recent efforts to persuade a judge to order his release, but he is eligible for release anyway. Back in 2009, when President Obama established the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force to assess all the prisoners’ cases, he was one of 30 Yemenis approved for release but placed in “conditional detention,” a category invented by the task force, which recommended that those placed in this category should only be freed when it was assessed — by whom, it was not explained — that the security situation in Yemen had improved. Read the rest of this entry »
My short US tour to call for the closure of the lawless prison at Guantánamo Bay is almost over, but it has been a worthwhile visit, with events in Florida, Washington D.C. and New York City. On Thursday, I spoke for the first time at Revolution Books‘ new home in Harlem, about the successful campaign to free Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo, an immensely enjoyable evening in which a special guest in the audience was music legend Roger Waters, a supporter of my work and of the campaign to free Shaker for many years. The day after, Roger and I recorded a show for Democracy Now! which will be aired this week.
For my talk at Revolution Books, I was introduced by Debra Sweet, the national director of the World Can’t Wait, who has been organizing my annual visits on and around the anniversary of the opening of the prison (on January 11) every year since January 2011 — and who first organized visits for me (but not in January), in 2009 and 2010.
The video of the event, via Vimeo, is below. My talk begins at 10:09, and over the next 40 minutes I spoke about the campaign to free Shaker, through the work of the We Stand With Shaker campaign I launched in November 2014 with the activist Joanne MacInnes, the long-running Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, and the crucial support of the media and of MPs, led, initially, by John McDonnell, now the Shadow Chancellor, and then with great cross-party support from MPs including the Conservatives David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, and Jeremy Corbyn, now the leader of the Labour Party. Read the rest of this entry »
As the disgraceful US prison at Guantánamo Bay begins its 15th year of operations, President Obama has been busy attempting to show that, with just one year left in office, he is determined to close the prison, as he promised to do on his second day in office back in January 2009, when he promised to close it within a year. Last month, we heard that 17 men would be released in January, and the releases began just days before the 14th anniversary of the opening of the prison with the release of two Yemenis in Ghana and the return to Kuwait of Fayiz al-Kandari, the last Kuwaiti in the prison. On the actual anniversary, a Saudi was returned home, and two days after the anniversary ten more Yemenis were released in Oman, Yemen’s neighbor, to add to the ten Yemenis sent to Oman last year.
David Remes, who represents three of the men sent to Oman, said it was “a particularly good fit for them,” as the New York Times described it. “I’m sure that they are ecstatic just leaving Guantánamo,” he said. “But it’s even better than that. They’ve been sent to Oman, an Arab country, whose language, culture and religion are their own. Oman is also one of Yemen’s neighbors, so their families will be able to visit them often.”
Three more releases — of unidentified prisoners to unidentified countries — are expected soon, and, after the release of the ten men to Oman, Lee Wolosky, the Special Envoy for Guantánamo Closure in the State Department, said, “We expect to be in a position to empty Guantánamo of all detainees who are currently approved for transfer by this summer.” Including the three men who are expected to be freed soon, Wolosky’s description currently applies to 34 of the 93 men still held — 25 since January 2010, who were approved for release by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, and nine in the last two years, by a new review process, the Periodic Review Boards. Read the rest of this entry »
Monday was the 14th anniversary of the opening of the dreadful, unforgivable “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where men are held without charge or trial, in defiance of all the laws and treaties that the US swore to uphold until the 9/11 attacks derailed those beliefs — or allowed the country’s leaders to deliberately jettison them in favor of something far more brutal and unaccountable.
On Monday, I attended the annual protest outside the White House organized by over a dozen rights groups, as the co-founder and co-director of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, which played a part in securing the release from Guantánamo in October of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and as the co-founder of Close Guantánamo, a campaign I established in 2012 with the attorney Tom Wilner (who fought for the prisoners’ habeas corpus rights in the Supreme Court in 2004 and 2008). The video of my speech outside the White House is here.
That afternoon, just around the corner from the White House, at New America (formerly the New America Foundation), Tom Wilner and I were joined by the academic Karen Greenberg for a panel discussion, Guantánamo Bay: Year 14, moderated by New America’s Peter Bergen, author, journalist and an old college friend of mine, which is posted below via Ustream. I’ll also post a YouTube link when it becomes available. Read the rest of this entry »
For Fayiz al-Kandari, the last Kuwaiti held at Guantánamo, who turned 40 at the prison in 2015, there is finally justice, as he was released on Friday January 10 and sent back home, over 14 years after he was first seized in Afghanistan, where, he always maintained, he had traveled to engage in humanitarian aid work.
Fayiz’s release, and that of another prisoner, a Saudi, appears to provide a demonstration of President Obama’s renewed commitment to close Guantánamo in his last year in office, as four men have now been freed in the last few days, and 13 more releases are expected soon. Without a doubt, it also provides further vindication that the Periodic Review Board process at Guantánamo — established in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release or facing trials — is working. in the cases of both men, they were recommended for continued imprisonment after PRBs, but were then reviewed again, when they both worked harder to convince the boards that they pose no threat and want only to rebuild their lives in peace — as, it should be noted, do most of the 103 men still held.
Of the 18 cases so far decided in PRBs, 15 have ended with recommendation for the release of the prisoners — a great result when all were previously regarded as “too dangerous to release” — although the process is moving far too slowly. Those 18 cases took over two years, and 42 other men are awaiting reviews, which will not be completed until 2020 at the current pace. If President Obama is serious about closing Guantánamo, he needs to find a way to speed up the process considerably in his last 12 months in office. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday was the 14th anniversary of the opening of the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, and I was honored to attend a powerful protest outside the White House, featuring representatives of over a dozen rights groups, and with prominent roles played by the activists of Witness Against Torture. I had spent much of the previous day at the church where many dozens of them are staying, engaged in a 10-day fast and daily actions across the capital aimed at raising awareness of the injustice of Guantánamo and the plight of the men held there, and, in the evening, had joined them and representatives of Code Pink, the Center for Constitutional Rights and other organizations at “Visions of Homecoming: Close Guantánamo!”
This was an event celebrating the groups’ visit to Cuba in November, where I also spoke about We Stand With Shaker (the campaign I co-founded in November 2014, with the activist Joanne MacInnes, to call for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison) and played “Song for Shaker Aamer,” the song I wrote that, with my band The Four Fathers, featured in the We Stand With Shaker campaign video (and on our album “Love and War“). Other performances on the night came from The Peace Poets, spoken word artists from the Bronx who I always find wonderfully uplifting, combining sharp rhymes and tough themes with an extraordinary humanity. I hope to post videos of performances from the evening in the near future — including my own!
At yesterday’s rally, I spoke about the success of the campaign to release Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, from the prison, but stressed how hard it had been to get just one man freed to America’s closest ally, involving the concerted efforts of many dozens of MPs and a range newspapers from across the political spectrum, campaigners and members of the general public, and even a request for action from David Cameron to Barack Obama. Read the rest of this entry »
Tomorrow is the 14th anniversary of the opening of the US “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and, as I have for the last five years, I will be outside the White House, as part of a protest involving over a dozen rights groups, calling for the closure of the prison as swiftly as possible.
My presence at the protest is part of a short US tour I’m undertaking to highlight the necessity to close Guantánamo without further delay. on Friday I flew into Miami form London — my first ever visit to Florida — where I was greeted by a great group of peace and social justice activists, and where, on Saturday, I attended a rally and march to the gates of US Southern Command, responsible for overseeing Guantánamo. Outside Southcom HQ, I spoke about the need for the prison to be closed, to end the torture of those held indefinitely without charge or trial, and to restore, to the US, some notion that this remains a country that respects justice and the rule of law, and that the illegality and brutality of the country’s response to 9/11 can finally be overcome. My thanks to the People’s Opposition to War, Imperialism, and Racism (POWIR) for organizing this event, and I’d like to say that what made it particularly impressive was the number of young people involved.
This year I have brought with me a giant inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who was finally freed from the prison on October 30, eight years after he was first told that the US no longer wanted to hold him, under President Bush, and six years after he was also approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009. Read the rest of this entry »
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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