Fawzi Al-Odah Freed from Guantánamo, Returns Home to Kuwait

In this photo released by the al-Odah family, Fawzi al-Odah is shown with an unidentified relative on the left and his father Khalid on the right on his arrival in Kuwait on November 6, 2014.Congratulations to the Obama administration for arranging for Fawzi al-Odah, one of the last two Kuwaiti prisoners in Guantánamo, to be sent home, a free man, on the day after the US mid-term elections — although he will be held in Kuwaiti custody for a year and required to take part in a year-long rehabilitation program.

With control of the Senate passing from the Democrats to the Republicans, and the House of Representatives maintaining its Republican majority, it may be difficult for President Obama to engage constructively with lawmakers on the eventual closure of the prison during his last two years in office.

However, by releasing al-Odah, leaving 148 men still held at the prison, including the last Kuwaiti, Fayiz al-Kandari, the president has sent a clear signal that his administration remains committed to releasing prisoners approved for release by governmental review boards, following the rules laid down by Congress, which require the administration to give them 30 days’ notice prior to any release, and for the defense secretary to certify that he is satisfied that it is safe for the prisoner or prisoners in question to be released.

Al-Odah, who was born on May 6, 1977 and is 37 years old, was seized crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan in December 2001 and transferred to US custody on January 2, 2002. He arrived at Guantánamo on February 13, 2002, and, as a result, spent over a third of his life at the prison, without ever having been charged or tried. Read the rest of this entry »

76 US Lawmakers Ask Obama to Let Them See Guantánamo Force-Feeding Videos

Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who sent a letter to President Obama on October 30, 2014, asking to be allowed to see videotapes of force-feeding at Guantanamo.

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.

On Thursday, 76 members of the US Congress — the Congressional Progressive Caucus, represented by co-chairs Raúl Grijalva and Keith Ellison — sent a letter to President Obama asking to be allowed to see videotapes of force-feeding at Guantánamo.

In May, District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered videotapes of the force-feeding — and “forcible cell extractions” (FCEs) — of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner, to be made available to his lawyers, who had to travel to the Pentagon’s secure facility outside Washington D.C. to see them. After viewing them, Cori Crider, his lawyer at the legal action charity Reprieve, said, “While I’m not allowed to discuss the contents of these videos, I can say that I had trouble sleeping after viewing them,” and added, “I have no doubt that if President Obama forced himself to watch them, he would release my client tomorrow.”

On October 3, in response to a motion submitted in June by 16 major US media organizations, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, McClatchy, the Guardian, the Associated Press and others, Judge Kessler ordered the videotapes — eleven hours of footage, consisting of 28 tapes in total — to be publicly released, once they have been “redacted for ‘all identifiers of individuals’ other than Mr. Dhiab.” Read the rest of this entry »

Omar Khadr Urges Canadian Government to Respect the Law While Dealing with National Security Issues

In the wake of last week’s attacks in Ottawa by a lone gunman, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, who killed a soldier at the National War Memorial and also attacked Parliament Hill, and another attack in Quebec, where a warrant officer was run over and killed, the word “terrorism” has been used liberally, and the Canadian government has rushed to release a new bill, the “Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act,” which, if passed, “will expand the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service,” as the Globe and Mail reported.

The paper stated that sources had told them that the government was “weighing new tools to deal with citizens who openly support terrorist attacks on Canadians or back groups that urge this goal,” and that “the country’s top Mountie”  — RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson — was “calling on the government to make it easier to restrict the liberties of suspects in terror cases.” When senior officials start talking openly about restricting liberties, alarm bells should always start ringing.

In another chilling passage, the Globe and Mail noted that the government “has already signalled it’s looking at lowering the threshold for preventive arrests.” That is chilling, of course, because “preventive arrests” overturns the accepted concept of the law as something that is designed to deal with crimes that have taken place, not crimes that may or may not take place in the future. Read the rest of this entry »

12 Nobel Peace Prize Winners Tell President Obama to Reveal Full Details of the US Torture Program and to Close Guantánamo

Yesterday (October 27), 12 Nobel Peace Prize winners, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, sent a powerful and important letter to President Obama — himself a recipient of the prize — calling for him to disclose in full “the extent and use of torture and rendition by American soldiers, operatives, and contractors, as well as the authorization of torture and rendition by American officials,” and to provide “[c]lear planning and implementation for the closure of Guantánamo prison, putting an end to indefinite detention without due process.”

The 12 Nobel Peace Prize winners also called for verification that all “black sites” abroad have been closed, and also called for the “[a]doption of firm policy and oversight restating and upholding international law relating to conflict, including the Geneva Convention and the UN Convention against Torture, realigning the nation to the ideals and beliefs of their founders — the ideals that made the United States a standard to be emulated.”

It is unfortunate that these demands remain necessary — that, as the authors of the letter explain, “In recent decades, by accepting the flagrant use of torture and other violations of international law in the name of combating terrorism, American leaders have eroded the very freedoms and rights that generations of their young gave their lives to defend.” Read the rest of this entry »

Fifth Guantánamo Prisoner’s Release Recommended by Periodic Review Board, But When Will These Men Be Released?

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.

“What does it take to get out of Guantánamo?” is a question I have asked before, but it remains, sadly, one of permanent relevance. Last week it surfaced again when two decisions were announced regarding men — both Saudis — whose cases had been considered by Periodic Review Boards (PRBs), a process established last year to review the cases of the Guantánamo prisoners who have not been approved for release, and are not facing trials. At the time the PRBs were set up, that involved 71 men, but some of those men have since been freed.

The PRBs decided that one man, Muhammad Murdi lssa al-Zahrani, whose review took place in June, should be freed. The board explained that they “considered the uncorroborated nature of the information about the detainee’s level of involvement with al-Qaeda, the detainee and his family’s lack of ongoing contacts or ties with at-large extremists, the detainee’s behavior while in detention, and the detainee’s candor with the board about his presence on the battlefield, expressions of regret, and desires for a peaceful life after Guantánamo.”

The board members also stated that they had “considered the Saudi rehabilitation program,” and were “confident in the efficacy of the program for a detainee with his particular mindset,” adding, “The detainee demonstrated an understanding of the Saudi rehabilitation program and a willingness to participate, and his family also expressed support for the program.” Read the rest of this entry »

Judge Grants Government a Month’s Delay in Release of Guantánamo Force-Feeding Videotapes

Last Thursday, in the latest development in Guantánamo prisoner Abu Wa’el Dhiab’s quest to stop his force-feeding, District Judge Gladys Kessler gave the US government a one-month delay in complying with her recent order for videotapes of Mr. Dhiab’s force-feeding and his “forcible cell extractions” — in which armored guards violently remove prisoners from their cells — to be publicly released.

The challenge by Mr. Dhiab — one of 80 prisoners approved for release but still held — has been putting pressure on the Guantánamo authorities, and on the Obama administration, for many months, as I explained at the time of the ruling about releasing the videotapes, three weeks ago, when I wrote:

This ruling is the latest in a string of powerful rulings by Judge Kessler, who, in May, briefly ordered the government to stop force-feeding Mr. Dhiab. This order was swiftly rescinded, as Judge Kessler feared for his life, but she also ordered videotapes of his “forcible cell extractions” (FCEs) and his force-feeding to be made available to his lawyers, who had to travel to the Pentagon’s secure facility outside Washington D.C. to see them. After viewing them, Cori Crider, his lawyer at Reprieve, said, “While I’m not allowed to discuss the contents of these videos, I can say that I had trouble sleeping after viewing them,” and added, “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 »

Andy Worthington Takes Part in UCLU Amnesty Event, “Why Did I Become An Activist?” on Tuesday October 28, 2014

Recently, I was delighted to be asked to take part in an event organised by UCLU Amnesty International Society, entitled, “Why Did I Become An Activist?” which takes place next Tuesday. Details are below.

As the group states on the Facebook page for the event, “Unsure about how human rights relates to you? Want to take action but uncertain where to start? Come along to our ‘Why Should I Be An Activist?’ event. With speakers from a range of backgrounds, this will be an evening of talks and discussions aimed at guiding us, as students, through the first steps of becoming activists in our own right.”

I was pleased to have my work on Guantánamo and related issues as an independent investigative journalist and commentator recognised, and I hope I will be able to provide some young people with examples of the many ways to undertake journalism in the internet age, and also why we need campaigning journalists, and not just those working for the mainstream media, in which, far too often, the many injustices of the world are not adequately addressed, because of an obsession with “objectivity” (not shared by right-wing media outlets) and a refusal to accept that — sometimes, at least — campaigning ought to be part of the mainstream media’s job. Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer’s Abuse in Guantánamo Dismissed by British Foreign Secretary

In disappointing but predictable news, the British foreign secretary Philip Hammond, who replaced William Hague on July 15 this year, has “dismissed concerns over the abuse” of Shaker Aamer, the last British prisoner in Guantánamo, in a letter to his lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, the founder and director of the legal action charity Reprieve, as described by the charity in a press release.

In August, as I explained at the time, Clive Stafford Smith wrote to Philip Hammond after he had “received a series of unclassified letters from various detainees who we represent in Guantánamo Bay,” which told “a disturbingly consistent story” — of “a new ‘standard procedure’” whereby the FCE team (the armored guards responsible for violently removing prisoners from their cells through “forcible cell extractions”) was being “used to abuse the prisoners with particular severity because of the on-going non-violent hunger strike protest against their unconscionable treatment.”

Stafford Smith also explained how one of Shaker Aamer’s fellow prisoners, Emad Hassan, a Yemeni who, like Shaker, has long been cleared for release, described how, on the Sunday before he wrote his letter, “Shaker ISN 239 was beaten when the medical people wanted to draw blood.” Read the rest of this entry »

Q&A with Andy Worthington After Screening of “Doctors of the Dark Side” in Balham, October 26, 2014

If you’re in London on Sunday afternoon, and want to attend a free screening of the documentary film “Doctors of the Dark Side” followed by a Q&A session in which I’m speaking, then please come along to a screening put on by the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign (the campaign to free Shaker Aamer, the last British prisoner in Guantánamo) in Balham, in south London — and RSVP (all details below). You can also click on the image of the poster on the left to see a larger version of it.

“Doctors of the Dark Side,” directed by Martha Davis, a clinical psychologist, and narrated by the actress Mercedes Ruehl, explores the role of physicians and psychologists in the torture of prisoners in the “war on terror” — not just the ordinary personnel who served as the foot soldiers of torture, and who continue to do so in their role force-feeding hunger strikers at Guantánamo, but also the more senior individuals who recommended the torture program that was subsequently approved at the highest levels of the Bush administration — men like James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, psychologists who worked on military programs to teach US personnel to resist torture if captured by a hostile enemy, and who reverse-engineered the techniques they taught for the torture of prisoners in the “war on terror.”

I saw the film almost a year ago, at UCL in London, where I was privileged to meet Martha Davis, and I also attended a couple of screenings in the US in January, during my annual visit to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo on the anniversary of its opening, where I also met Martha again — and I can wholeheartedly recommend the film to anyone who wants to thoroughly comprehend the role of psychologists and physicians in the Bush administration’s “war on terror” torture program, and to understand how significant and depressing it is that no one has been held accountable for the torture program — with the exception of the “few bad apples” held responsible for abuse in Abu Ghraib in Iraq, and Bagram in Afghanistan, who, of course, were not working unsupervised, and were part of a chain of command that went right to the very top of the Bush administration. Read the rest of this entry »

Is President Obama Planning an Executive Order for the Closure of Guantánamo?

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 Thursday, out of the blue, Carol E. Lee and Jess Bravin of the Wall Street Journal reported that senior Obama administration officials had told them that the White House was drafting options that would allow President Obama to close the “war on terror” prison established by President Bush at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, through the use of an executive order.

Such an order would bypass lawmakers in Congress, who have imposed a ban on bringing prisoners to the US mainland since 2010, in response to President Obama’s proposal to transfer prisoners from Guantánamo to a maximum-security prison in Thomson, Illinois. Lawmakers have also passed legislation designed to make it difficult to release prisoners to other countries.

Reading on, it became apparent that this was only an option being considered. As the article explained, the officials said that President Obama “strongly prefers a legislative solution over going around Congress.” However, because, as one official said, the president is “unwavering in his commitment” to closing the prison, which he promised to close on his second day in office, he “wants to have all potential options available on an issue he sees as part of his legacy.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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