Andy Worthington: An Archive of Guantánamo Articles and Other Writing – Part 16, January to June 2014

Andy Worthington and the poster for the We Stand With Shaker campaign (calling for the release f the last British resident in Guantanamo) at the protest against Guantanamo outside the White House on January 11, 2015, the 13th anniversary of the opening of the prison (Photo: Medea Benjamin for Andy Worthington).Please support my work!

Welcome to the 16th chronological list of all my articles, since I began working as an independent journalist in 2007 — about Guantánamo and related topics, and other themes involving social justice. Please support my work if you can with a donation!

I first began researching the Bush administration’s “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo and the 779 men (and boys) held there nearly ten years ago, in the fall of 2005, and began researching and writing about it on a full-time basis in March 2006. Initially, I spent 14 months researching and writing my book The Guantánamo Files, based, largely, on 8,000 pages of documents publicly released by the Pentagon in the spring of 2006, and, since May 2007, I have continued to write about the men held there, on an almost daily basis, as an independent investigative journalist — for two and a half years under President Bush, and, shockingly, for what is now over six years under President Obama.

My mission, as it has been since my research first revealed the scale of the injustice at Guantánamo, continues to revolve around four main aims — to humanize the prisoners by telling their stories; to expose the many lies told about them to supposedly justify their detention; to push for the prison’s closure and the absolute repudiation of indefinite detention without charge or trial as US policy; and to call for those who initiated, implemented and supported indefinite detention and torture to be held accountable for their actions. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Prisoners Released in Uruguay Struggle to Adapt to Freedom

Released Guantanamo prisoner Abu Wa'el Dhiab in a screenshot from an interview he did with an Argentinian TV channel in February 2015, two months after his release in Uruguay with five other men.In December, the release of six Guantánamo prisoners in Uruguay attracted the attention of the world’s media — in part because Uruguay’s President Mujica was a former political prisoner, who had openly criticized Guantánamo and had welcomed the men as refugees.

At the time, the situation looked hopeful for the men — four Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian — but that may just have been because of President Mujica’s attitude. After 13 years in Guantánamo, the reasonable expectation would have been that the released men would have post-traumatic stress disorder, and would find it hard to adapt to life in an alien country with no Muslim population.

In February, the most prominent of the former prisoners, Abu Wa’el Dhiab (aka Jihad Diyab) — a Syrian who had embarked on a hunger strike in despair at ever being released, and had fought in the US courts to prevent the Obama administration from force-feeding him — made what the Guardian described as “a surprising visit” to Argentina, Uruguay’s neighbour, to ask the country to take in other prisoners from Guantánamo, where 55 of the remaining 122 prisoners have also been approved for release, but are, for the most part, in need of third countries to offer them new homes. Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer’s First Phone Call from Guantánamo to His Lawyers Since Publication of the Senate Torture Report

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).NOTE: Andy is currently in the US on a short tour to coincide with the anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo on January 11. See here for further details. You can contact Andy on 347-272-3576.

In the Mail on Sunday on January 4, long-time Guantánamo reporter David Rose, who worked for the Observer for many years, wrote an article about Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, after he was given access to the notes of Shaker’s first phone conversation with one of his lawyers — Clive Stafford Smith, the founder and director of the legal action charity Reprieve — following the publication, last month, of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s damning 6,700-page report about the CIA’s torture program.

The Mail has recently dedicated itself to Shaker’s case, inspired in part by We Stand With Shaker, the campaign that I established in November with activist Joanne MacInnes, which features numerous celebrities standing with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker — demonstrating how he is the elephant in the room of US-UK relations. Twice approved for release (in 2007 and 2009), his return has also been requested by the British government since 2007, and as a result his ongoing imprisonment is a shame and a disgrace for both countries.

On January 6, after Paul Lewis, the Pentagon’s special envoy for the closure of the Guantánamo prison, told the New York Times that “the Defense Department continues to aggressively pursue the transfer” of those prisoners “who have been declared eligible” for release — currently 59 of the remaining 127 prisoners — Reprieve urged Prime Minister David Cameron, who is “reportedly traveling to the US in January to meet President Obama,” to “raise his case and return from the visit with a clear date for Mr. Aamer’s release.” Read the rest of this entry »

Why Guantánamo Mustn’t Be Forgotten in the Fallout from the CIA Torture Report

Anti-torture protestors outside the White House in May 2009, after President Obama's first 100 days in office.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’s a week now since the 500-page executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,700-page report into the post-9/11 CIA torture program was published, and here at “Close Guantánamo,” we are concerned that (a) the necessary calls for accountability will fall silent as the days and weeks pass; and (b) that people will not be aware that the use of torture was not confined solely to the CIA’s “black sites,” and the specific program investigated by the Senate Committee, and that it was a key element of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 detention program — in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and in Guantánamo, where elements of the current operations can still be defined as torture.

The Senate Committee report contains new information, of course — much of it genuinely harrowing — but journalists and researchers uncovered much of the program over the last ten years, and that body of work — some of which I referred to in my article about the torture report for Al-Jazeera last week — will continue to be of great relevance as the executive summary is analyzed, and, hopefully, as the full report is eventually made public.

Mainly, though, as I mentioned in the introduction to this article, it is crucial that the news cycle is not allowed to move on without an insistence that there be accountability. The Senate report chronicles crimes, authorized at the highest levels of the Bush administration, implemented by the CIA and two outside contractors, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who had worked for a military program designed to train soldiers how to resist torture if captured, but who had no real-life experience of interrogations, or any knowledge of Al-Qaeda or the individuals involved (see Vice News’ extraordinary interview with Mitchell here). Read the rest of this entry »

Disappointment as US Judge Upholds Force-Feeding of Hunger Striking Guantánamo Prisoner Abu Wa’el Dhiab

Guantanamo prisoner Abu Wa'el Dhiab, and District Judge Gladys Kessler, who, earlier this year, ordered the government to preserve all videotapes of his force-feeding and "forcible cell extractions," and who, last month, ordered those videotapes to be publicly released. On November 7, 2014, unfortunately, she refused to order the government to change the way it force-feeds him, and to make it more humane.On Friday, in the latest twist in the legal challenge mounted by Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a hunger striker at Guantánamo, District Judge Gladys Kessler, in Washington D.C., disappointed Mr. Dhiab, his lawyers and everyone who wants personnel at Guantánamo to be accountable for their actions by denying his request “to significantly change the manner in which the US military transfers, restrains and forcibly feeds detainees on hunger strike to protest their confinement,” as the Guardian described it.

Mr Dhiab, a father of four who is in a wheelchair because of the decline in his health during 12 years in US custody, was cleared for release in 2009 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama appointed when he first took office, but he is still held because of Congressional opposition to the release of prisoners, and because he needs a third country to take him in (and although Uruguay has offered him new home, that deal has not yet materialized). Last year, he embarked on a hunger strike because of his despair that he would never be released, along with two-thirds of the remaining prisoners, and he also asked a judge to order the government to feed him in a more humane manner.

That request was turned down last summer, because of legislation passed under President Bush that was cynically designed to prevent judges from interfering in the treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo, but in February this year the court of appeals — the D.C. Circuit Court — overturned that ruling and an allied ruling, determining that hunger-striking prisoners can challenge their force-feeding in a federal court — and, more generally, as the New York Times described it, that judges have “the power to oversee complaints” by prisoners “about the conditions of their confinement,” and that “courts may oversee conditions at the prison as part of a habeas corpus lawsuit.” 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 »

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 »

Experts Deliver Damning Testimony at Guantánamo Force-Feeding Trial

For an update on October 9, see below.

This week, a historic and unprecedented trial has been taking place in Washington D.C., as lawyers for Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner at Guantánamo, have been challenging the government’s claimed legality for force-feeding prisoners.

Mr. Dhiab has been a frequent hunger striker for the last seven years, and weighs just 152 pounds, despite being six feet five inches tall. Last February, he took part in a hunger strike that involved up to two-thirds of the remaining prisoners, who were in despair at ever being released or given justice, and he has continued his hunger strike, even though throughout this period he has been subjected to painful force-feeding. He is one of 75 of the remaining 149 prisoners who were approved for release by a government task force in 2009 — and four others have had their release approved this year through another review process, the Periodic Review Boards. He is also in a wheelchair as a result of his physical decline during his 12 years in US custody.

Last summer, Mr. Dhiab challenged the legality of his force-feeding in court, and, as I explained in an article on Sunday, in May, after some to-ing and fro-ing, Judge Gladys Kessler, in the District Court in Washington D.C., “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.” Read the rest of this entry »

In Ground-Breaking Ruling, US Judge Gladys Kessler Orders Guantánamo Force-Feeding Videos to be Made Public

Congratulations to Judge Gladys Kessler of the District Court in Washington D.C., who, yesterday, followed up on a powerful order prohibiting the government from holding a secret hearing in the case of Guantánamo hunger striker Abu Wa’el Dhiab, which I wrote about here, with an even more powerful order calling on the government to prepare for public release eleven hours of videotapes showing Mr. Dhiab being dragged from his cell and force-fed.

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.”

In a press release, Reprieve explained that the eleven hours of video footage — consisting of 28 tapes in total — “is to be redacted for ‘all identifiers of individuals’ other than Mr. Dhiab,” and further explained how Judge Kessler’s ruling came 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, seeking to have the videotapes unsealed. Read the rest of this entry »

Judge in Guantánamo Force-Feeding Case Rejects Government’s Call for Secret Hearing

Sometimes, when it comes to Guantánamo, the shamelessness of the US government know no bounds.

The most recent example is in the case of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner, long cleared for release and confined to a wheelchair as a result of his treatment over the last 12 years. In despair at ever being released, Mr. Dhiab embarked on a hunger strike last year, as part of the prison-wide hunger strike that reminded many people of the existence of Guantánamo — and in May he won an unprecedented court victory, when, as I described it recently, a US judge — District Judge Gladys Kessler, in  Washington D.C. — ordered the government to stop force-feeding him, and to preserve videotaped evidence of his force-feeding, and his “forcible cell extractions” (FCEs), whereby a team of armored guards drags him out of his cell to take him to be force-fed.

Soon after, Judge Kessler reluctantly dropped her ban on Mr. Dhiab’s force-feeding, fearing that otherwise he would die. However, she also ordered the government to release the videotapes to Mr. Dhiab’s lawyers, which was another unprecedented decision.

On August 12, as I explained in another article, Judge Kessler ordered the authorities at Guantánamo to allow two independent doctors to visit the prison to evaluate Mr. Dhiab’s health. As his lawyers at the legal action charity Reprieve explained in a press release, his health had “deteriorated so much that there are now concerns for his life.” As Reprieve also explained, the doctors will “also testify, along with a force-feeding expert, at a hearing scheduled for October 6, about the medical effects of the force-feedings on Mr Dhiab.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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