Today is the 20th Anniversary of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture: Will the Torture and the Impunity Ever Stop?

No free pass for torture: an image prepared by the ACLU.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

June 26 is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, and today marks its 20th anniversary. When it first took place in 1998, the date was chosen because it is a particularly significant day in the field of human rights. Eleven years previously, on June 26, 1987, the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the UN Convention Against Torture), an enormous breakthrough in the global moral struggle against the use of torture, came into effect, and June 26 also marks the date in 1945 when the UN Charter, the founding document of the United Nations, was signed by 50 of the 51 original member countries (Poland signed it two months later).

The establishment of the UN and of key pledges regarding human rights has been a high point for the aspiration for a better world, which, of course, came about as a response to the horrors of the Second World War. After the UN was founded, the next major milestone in this quest was the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948, and in 1950, in a similar vein, the newly formed Council of Europe established the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) (originally known as the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms), which entered into force on September 3, 1953.

Unfortunately, although aspirations for a better world are profoundly worthwhile, they constantly jostle with the political realities of a world in which the thirst for power, paranoia, nationalism and capitalism seek to undermine them. Nevertheless, they constantly provide a benchmark for higher human ideals, and it is always reassuring when human rights are prominently observed. Read the rest of this entry »

Torture Began at Guantánamo with Bush’s Presidential Memo 12 Years Ago

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.

This is a grim time of year for anniversaries relating to Guantánamo. Two days ago, February 6, was the first anniversary of the start of last year’s prison-wide hunger strike, which woke the world up to the ongoing plight of the prisoners — over half of whom were cleared for release by a Presidential task force over four years ago but are still held.

The hunger strike — which, it should be noted, resumed at the end of last year, and currently involves dozens of prisoners — forced President Obama to promise to resume releasing prisoners, after a three-year period in which the release of prisoners had almost ground to a halt, because of opposition in Congress, and President Obama’s unwillingness to overcome that opposition, even though he had the power to do so.

To mark the anniversary, a number of NGOs — the ACLU, Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights First and Human Rights Watch — launched a campaign on Thursday, “Take a Stand for Justice,” encouraging people to call the White House (on 202-456-1111) to declare their support for President Obama’s recent call for Guantánamo to be closed for good (in his State of the Union address, he said, “With the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantánamo Bay”). Please call the White House if you can, and share the page via social media. Read the rest of this entry »

“Close Guantánamo,” Says Prison’s First Commander, Adds That It “Should Never Have Been Opened”

In an important op-ed for the Detroit Free Press, Maj. Gen. Mike Lehnert of the Marines, the first commander of Guantánamo, has called for the closure of the prison. Maj. Gen. Lehnert built the open air cages of Camp X-Ray, the “war on terror” prison’s first incarnation, in just four days prior to the arrival of the first prisoners on January 11, 2002.

As I explained in my book The Guantánamo Files, Lehnert initially bought into the hyperbole and propaganda about the prisoners, stating, soon after the prison opened, “These represent the worst elements of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. We asked for the worst guys first.” However, he soon changed his mind. In early February 2002, he provided an important insight into how, contrary to what senior Bush administration officials were saying in public, the uncomfortable truth was they they had no idea who most of the prisoners were. “A large number claim to be Taliban, a smaller number we have been able to confirm as al-Qaeda, and a rather large number in the middle we have not been able to determine their status,” he said, adding, “Many of the detainees are not forthcoming. Many have been interviewed as many as four times, each time providing a different name and different information.”

Unfortunately, the Bush administration responded not by acknowledging that it had, with a handful of exceptions, bought and rounded up civilians and low-level Taliban conscripts, but by aggressively interrogating the men over many years and, in many cases, introducing a torture program involving prolonged sleep deprivation, isolation, humiliation, the use of loud music and noise, and the exploitation of phobias. This produced copious amounts of information, as was revealed when WikiLeaks released classified military files relating to the prisoners in April 2011, but much of it was fundamentally unreliable. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Authorities Respond to Hunger Strike with Violence; Red Cross Complains

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 response to the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, the authorities last weekend stormed into Camp 6, the block where the majority of the prisoners are held, and hauled most of the prisoners off to solitary confinement.

The authorities attempted to justify their actions — but failed to understand that the men who are endangering their lives by embarking on a hunger strike are doing so not to upset the authorities for no reason, or to challenge their authority needlessly, but because they despair of ever being released.

Even though 86 of the 166 men still held were cleared for release by an inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force established by President Obama in 2009, the US government has turned its back on them. Although two-thirds of the cleared prisoners are Yemenis, President Obama issued a blanket ban on releasing any Yemenis after the failed underwear bomb plot on Christmas Day 2009 (perpetrated by a Nigerian man recruited in Yemen).

Congress has also raised obstacles preventing the release of prisoners, and the court of appeals in Washington D.C. — the D.C. Circuit Court — has also issued rulings preventing the release of prisoners for reasons that have much more to do with ideology and paranoia than with the facts.

The men are effectively stranded at Guantánamo, and will die there unless action is taken immediately by President Obama to bring this intolerable situation to an end. Read the rest of this entry »

The Forgotten Prisoners 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.

At “Close Guantánamo,” we recently launched our appeal to President Obama for his second term in office, asking him to do three things in particular to honor his promise to close Guantánamo, made when he took office four years ago, which, of course, he failed to fulfill.

Those three requests — relating to the 86 prisoners, out of 166 in total, who have been cleared for release but are still held — were as follows:

1: Lift the ban on releasing any of the 56 cleared Yemenis from Guantánamo, imposed in January 2010.

2: Appoint a new person to deal specifically with closing Guantánamo, to find new homes for the cleared prisoners in need of assistance.

3: Take the fight to Congress to stop treating the cleared prisoners as pawns in a cynical game of political maneuvering, and to clear the way for all 86 cleared prisoners to be repatriated or safely rehoused in other countries. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. 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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