Excellent news from Guantánamo yesterday, as Charlie Savage, in the New York Times, confirmed what those of us seeking the prison’s closure had hoped — that the majority of the 22 men approved for release (out of the 59 men still held) will be freed before President Obama leaves office.
Because of requirements put in place over many years by a hostile Congress, the Pentagon must notify Congress 30 days before a release — a “transfer” — is to take place, and the deadline for securing releases before Obama leaves office was therefore this Monday, December 19. By late in the day, officials told the Times, the administration had secured homes for 17 or 18 of the remaining prisoners, who, crucially, will be sent to Italy, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The Gulf countries have all taken prisoners in the last two years — almost all of them Yemenis, for whom third countries had to be found because the entire US establishment is unwilling to repatriate Yemenis based on fears about the security situation in their homeland. Four were sent to Oman in January 2015, another six in June 2015, and five were sent to the UAE in November 2015. Another ten were sent to Oman in January 2016, and another 12 were sent to the UAE in August 2016 (with three Afghans, whose repatriation had been prohibited by Congress, based on fears about them ending up taking up arms against US forces). In addition, another nine Yemenis were sent to Saudi Arabia in April 2016. Read the rest of this entry »
I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the 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 July 10, the Pentagon announced that Fayiz Ahmad Yahia Suleiman (ISN 153), a 41-year old Yemeni who arrived at the prison in its first week of operations, on January 17, 2002 and was approved for release from Guantánamo six and a half years ago, had finally been freed, and given a new home in Italy. Two prisoners, both Tunisians, were previously transferred to Italy, in 2009, where they were briefly imprisoned before returning to Tunisia during the optimistic early days of the Arab Spring.
Suleiman — who, it should be stressed, will be a free man in Italy — was approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009, and that issued its final report in January 2010. He is the last Yemeni out of 126 men approved for release by the task force to be freed.
In addition, eleven Yemenis are left out of 30 approved for release by the task force but then placed in a sub-category of “conditional detention” — conditional on a perceived improvement in the security situation in Yemen. No indication was given as to how this would be decided, but what happened instead was that the entire US establishment agreed not to repatriate any Yemenis, and so the “conditional detention” group languished until the Obama administration began finding countries that would offer new homes to them, a process that only began last November and that, with Suleiman’s release, has led to 19 men being given new homes — in the UAE, Ghana, Oman, Montenegro and Saudi Arabia. Read the rest of this entry »
In June 2004, in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal, a notorious memo from August 2002 was leaked. It was written by John Yoo, a lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and it claimed to redefine torture and to authorize its use on prisoners seized in the “war on terror.” I had no idea at the time that its influence would prove to be so long-lasting.
Ten years and four months since it was first issued, this memo — one of two issued on the same day, which will forever be known as the “torture memos” — is still protecting the senior Bush administration officials who commissioned it (as well as Yoo, and his boss, Jay S. Bybee, who signed it).
Those officials include George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and their senior lawyers, Alberto Gonzales and David Addington. None of these men should be immune from prosecution, because torture is illegal under US domestic law, and is prohibited under the terms of the UN Convention Against Torture, which the US, under Ronald Reagan, signed in 1988 and ratified in 1994. As Article 2.2 states, unequivocally, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” Read the rest of this entry »
Last month — although it now seems like an eternity ago, and a distant dream — I visited Italy for a two-week holiday, spending the first week in Rome and the second in Abruzzo, a mountainous region to the east. I posted photos from Rome in five sets, available here as a collection on Flickr, or here, and I still have two sets to post, but until now I hadn’t posted any photos from the second week, in Abruzzo, where we were based in a small village called Torre dei Nolfi, near the city of Sulmona, famous as the birthplace of the Roman poet Ovid.
Our journey to Abruzzo — to the city of Sulmona — involved a two and a half hour journey by train from Tiburtina station in Rome, on a wonderful trip through the mountains in which, for added atmosphere, the lights in our carriage didn’t work, so that we were plunged into darkness every time the train passed through a tunnel. To be fair, the lights did work in the rest of the carriages, although I really did enjoy the darkness, and I wasn’t looking to complain, given that our three return tickets cost just 25 Euros, the price of three One Day Travelcards in London. Read the rest of this entry »
My two-week family holiday in Italy is at an end, and I am now back in London, slightly cold and pining for the heat, the cooking, the fresh fruit, the culture of Rome and the mountains and lakes of Abruzzo province. All holidays must come to an end, however, and as I reacquaint myself with my home, and my friends, and try to focus once more on Guantánamo and the parlous state of British politics, and look forward to cycling in search of new and unexplored parts of London as part of my ongoing project to photograph the whole of London by bike, I will also be posting more photos of Rome and of our travels in Abruzzo province.
I have already posted four sets of photos of Rome (here, here, here and here), and this fifth set takes up where the last one left off — with a visit to the Roman Forum, on August 15, followed by a visit to the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill on August 16. These three sites — the heart of Ancient Rome, and consisting of its civic and religious centre, the hill on which several emperors made their home, and the colossal blood-stained amphitheatre where murder was turned into sport — offer an unparalleled insight into Ancient Rome, and for visitors, from the UK at least, the fact that access to all three sites is open for two days and costs just 12 Euros is a bonus, as my wife and I joked that in the UK each site would probably cost £27.90, with a ticket for all three offered at “just” £75. Read the rest of this entry »
I’m nearing the end of my two-week family holiday in Italy, and have been in Abruzzo province, near the town of Sulmona, since Sunday August 19. For the first week my family and I were in Rome, and I posted my photos from the first three days of that wonderful week here, here and here.
Our time in Abruzzo has also been wonderful, in this little known area of Italy, with its mountains and lakes, its vertiginous roads, its excellent food, and its old-fashioned hospitality with a laid-back vibe. However, we have been so busy travelling around that I have been unable to find the time to post more photos of Rome — until now. Read the rest of this entry »
Churches, Temples, Fountains and Piazze: The Historic Centre of Rome, a set on Flickr.
In two previous sets of photos (here and here), I have covered the first two days of my two-week family holiday in Italy — with a series of photos from Rome, where we have been during this first week, before moving on to Abruzzo province for the second.
Rome is so photogenic, and the compunction to wander around it so compelling, despite the average daytime heat of around 35 degrees, that it has been impossible to publish the photos as I take them, as a sort of visual diary, but if you bear with me I’ll eventually get all the photos published. At present, I doubt that Abruzzo province is as well-connected to the Internet as Rome, which may make a big difference to my ability to get my photos online. Read the rest of this entry »
Rome: A Storm, the Hills and the Tiber at Night, a set on Flickr.
This is my second set of photos from my family holiday this year — in Italy, and, specifically, in Rome this week and, next week, a village in Abruzzo province. The eternal city (la città eterna) is one of the most extraordinary places I have ever visited — with its excellent cuisine, friendly locals and its unparalleled architectural wonders, the result, of course, of having been a major player on the world stage for nearly 3,000 years.
On our first evening, we were introduced to Rome’s super-sized architectural heritage via a visit to Piazza San Pietro, the colossal square in front of St. Peter’s Basilica (la Basilica di San Pietro) at the heart of the Vatican, and on Day 2, although we saw little of the city’s architectural splendours, we nevertheless had an inspiring day, despite being housebound for the whole afternoon as the entire city was drenched by a full-on tropical storm, which reduced the humidity sufficiently that we didn’t have to sleep outside, as we did on our first night. Read the rest of this entry »
I’m on holiday right now, in Rome, an astonishing city, saturated in history, and still, of course, the centre of the Catholic church worldwide. Italy is a country that I have loved for a long time — on a visit as a child, as part of a family tour of Europe in our sky blue Triumph, in which we camping in France, Italy, Switzerland and Germany, and, in Italy, passed though dozens of tunnels, visiting Pisa and Firenze, and finding marble quarries high in the mountains; Many years later, with an Italian girlfriend, I visited Milano on numerous occasions, and also made memorable trips to Venezia, to Calabria and to Como — and it wads during this time that I learnt Italian, learned to love espresso, and also learned the basics of Italian cookery.
Fast forward to my life now, with my wife, Dot, and my son, Tyler, and Italy — along with Spain, and, last year, Greece — is one of the regular features of our family holidays in the Mediterranean. A few years ago, we had an amazing Easter holiday in Sicilia, and we also had a short holiday in Firenze, and, two years ago, a two-week bonanza with the first week in Puglia and the second in Napoli, which must rank as the most extraordinary city in western Europe, full of contradictions that are normally only associated with the developing world. Read the rest of this entry »
Delighted though I am to see the back of Silvio Berlusconi, no one should be reassured that his replacement, the unelected technocrat and former EU commissioner Mario Monti — or another unelected technocrat, Lucas Papademos, a former vice-president of the European Central Bank., who has taken over in Greece from former Prime Minister George Papandreou — are in a position to provide a solution to the financial crisis sweeping Europe.
Even before the unelected technocrats were parachuted in, those intent on addressing the crisis through austerity cuts of unprecedented savagery had a crisis of authority, having failed to consult with the electorates of the countries involved, and imposing unelected leaders is a truly alarming development.
For those seeking to understand why, it is clear that the fault lies primarily with the entire Euro project, and not with individual countries, but understanding that involves certain Northern European countries putting aside their dreadful knee-jerk racism regarding their southern neighbours’ purported laziness and corruption, and understanding that the Euro is and was an inherently flawed project, biased in favour of the richer countries, and essentially presided over by a handful of unaccountable officials.
As the Guardian noted in an article last week, “the latest phase of Europe’s sovereign debt crisis has exposed the quite flagrant contempt for voters, the people who are going to bear the full weight of the austerity programmes being cooked up” by “the Frankfurt Group, an unelected cabal made of up eight people: [Christine] Lagarde, [the head of the IMF]; [Angela] Merkel; [Nicolas] Sarkozy; Mario Draghi, the new president of the ECB [European Central Bank]; José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission; Jean-Claude Juncker, chairman of the Eurogroup; Herman van Rompuy, the president of the European Council; and Olli Rehn, Europe’s economic and monetary affairs commissioner.” Read the rest of this entry »
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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