Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Discusses Prison Artwork with the BBC, While Lawyers for “High-Value Detainee” Demand His Right to Continue Making Art

Untitled (aka Crying eye) by Mohammed al-Ansi, who was released from Guantanamo to Oman in January 2017, just before President Obama left office (Photo: Andy Worthington).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.

 

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.

Last October, an exhibition opened in the President’s Gallery, in John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, that might have attracted little attention had the Pentagon not decided to make a big song and dance about it.

The exhibition, ‘Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantánamo Bay,’ featured artwork by eight former and current Guantánamo prisoners — four freed, and four still held — which was given by the prisoners to their lawyers and their families, and it was not until November that the Pentagon got upset, apparently because the promotional material for the exhibition provided an email address for anyone “interested in purchasing art from these artists.” The obvious conclusion should have been that “these artists” meant the released prisoners, who should be free to do what they want with their own artwork, but the Pentagon didn’t see it that way.

On November 15, as I explained in my first article about the controversy, a spokesman, Air Force Maj. Ben Sakrisson, said that “all Guantánamo detainee art is ‘property of the US government’ and ‘questions remain on where the money for the sales was going,’” while, at the prison itself, Navy Cmdr. Anne Leanos said in a statement that “transfers of detainee made artwork have been suspended pending a policy review.” Read the rest of this entry »

Reviewing the Guantánamo Art Show in New York That Dared to Show Prisoners As Human Beings, and Led to a Pentagon Clampdown

Artwork by former Guantanamo prisoner Mohammed al-Ansi, shown in 'Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantanamo Bay', an exhibition in New York. This is a screenshot of the home page of the website.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.

 

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.

Back in November, a disturbing story emerged from Guantánamo — of how a ten-year policy of allowing prisoners to give away art they have made at the prison to their lawyers and, via them, to family members had been stopped by the authorities, in response to an exhibition of prisoners’ artwork at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, part of the City University of New York, which is known for its criminal justice, forensic science, forensic psychology, and public affairs programs.

The Pentagon had taken exception to an email address provided for people who were “interested in purchasing art” from the artists featured in the show. A Pentagon spokesman, Air Force Maj. Ben Sakrisson, said on November 15 that “all Guantánamo detainee art is ‘property of the US government’ and ‘questions remain on where the money for the sales was going.’”

One problem with this position was that some of the art was by prisoners who are no longer at the prison,which surely raises questions about the extent of the Pentagon’s claimed “ownership” of their work, but the Department of Defense wasn’t interested in having that pointed out. Instead, a spokeswoman at the prison, Navy Cmdr. Anne Leanos, said in a statement that “transfers of detainee made artwork have been suspended pending a policy review,” and Ramzi Kassem, a professor at City University of New York School of Law whose legal clinic represents Guantánamo prisoners, said that one particular prisoner had been told that, if any prisoner were to be allowed to leave Guantánamo (which, crucially, has not happened under Donald Trump), “their art would not even be allowed out with them and would be incinerated instead.” Read the rest of this entry »

Telling Donald Trump to Close Guantánamo: My Report on an Inspiring 24 Hours of Protest and Resistance in Washington, D.C. on the 16th Anniversary of the Prison’s Opening

Some of the supporters of the new Close Guantanamo initiative, counting how many days Guantanamo has been open. Clockwise from top L: Alli McCracken of Amnesty International USA, Natalia Scott in Mexico, Susan McLucas in Massachusetts, Martin Gugino, representatives of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Kathy Kelly, Brian Terrell and Beth Adams in Washington, D.C. 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, including my current visit to the US.

 

Thursday, Jan. 11 was the 16th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, and to mark the occasion, via the Close Guantánamo campaign I co-founded with the attorney Tom Wilner in 2012, we launched a new initiative: the Gitmo Clock, which counts how long Guantánamo has been open — 5,845 days on the anniversary. We’re encouraging people, throughout the year, to print the clock, take a photo with it, and send it to us, to put up on the website and to share via social media.

I arrived in New York from London on January 8, on my eighth annual visit in January to call for the closure of Guantánamo on and around the anniversary of its opening, and on Wednesday, January 10, I took the bus to Washington, D.C., to attend an event that evening, and to take part in a protest and a panel discussion the day after.

All were wonderful, inspiring occasions, providing an uplifting antidote to the anxiety and misery of life under Donald Trump as the repulsive, dysfunctional head of a disturbingly heartless Republican government. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Hunger Striker Khalid Qassim Says, “We Are Like Lab Rats,” Says Doctor Told Him, “If You Lose Organs, It Is Your Choice”

Guantanamo prisoner Khalid Qassim, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.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.

 

Last Thursday, as I travelled across London to show solidarity with the victims of a recent injustice in the UK — the Grenfell Tower fire in June, in which 71 people died needlessly because safety standards had been so gravely eroded by those responsible for residents’ safety — the victim of another injustice, not adequately dealt with for 16 years, had an article published in the Guardian.

That victim of injustice is Khalid Qassim (aka Qasim), a Yemeni prisoner at Guantánamo, held for almost 16 years without charge or trial. That would be unacceptable if he were a prisoner of war, as it is longer than the absurdly long Vietnam War, and it is insulting to claim that any war can last forever. However, Qassim and all the men held at Guantánamo since January 2002 have never been held as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, who can be held unmolested until the end of hostilities.

Instead, they are, essentially, the same prisoners without any rights whatsoever that the Bush administration first defined them as back in January 2002. Just ten of the 41 men still held are facing or have faced trials (in the military commission trial system that, in any case, is not fit for purpose), while the rest are still largely invisible, never tried, never charged, and unable to be freed except at the whim of the president. Read the rest of this entry »

Persistent Dehumanization at Guantánamo: US Claims It Owns Prisoners’ Art, Just As It Claims to Own Their Memories of Torture

"Empty glassware" (2015) by Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed Rabbani.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.

 

I wrote the following article (as “The Persistent Abuse of Guantánamo Prisoners: Pentagon Claims It Owns Their Art and May Destroy It, But U.S. Has Long Claimed It Even Owns Their Memories of Torture“) 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.

After years of letting Guantánamo prisoners keep the artwork they have made at the prison, subject to security screening, the Pentagon has suddenly secured widespread condemnation for banning its release, and, it is alleged by one of prisoners’ attorneys, for planning to burn it.

The story was first reported on November 16 by Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, and updated on November 20. Rosenberg explained how, for years, prisoners’ art had been released “after inspection by prison workers schooled in studying material for secret messages under the rubric of Operational Security.”

However, as Rosenberg explained, “Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantánamo Bay,” an exhibition in the President’s Gallery of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice until January 16, 2018, which features “paintings and other works by current and former captives” — and “which garnered international press coverage” — “apparently caught the attention of the Department of Defense,” because of an email address provided for people “interested in purchasing art from these artists.” Read the rest of this entry »

Former Guantánamo Prisoner Lakhdar Boumediene Condemns “Cruel, Sadistic” New Policy of Allowing Hunger Strikers to Starve

Former Guantanamo prisoner Lakhdar Boumediene.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.

 

It’s nearly a month since Guantánamo thrust its way back into the public consciousness with news from the human rights organization Reprieve that, under a new chief medical officer at Guantánamo, the rules for treating long-term hunger strikers had changed. Where, previously, those going without food were force-fed when they lost a fifth of their body weight, two hunger strikers — Ahmed Rabbani and Khalid Qassim, clients of Reprieve — indicated that, since the new appointment, on September 20, they were no longer being force-fed, and were not even being monitored.

Following further phone discussions with their clients, Reprieve suggested that what was happening was that prisoners were being left to suffer whatever damage might ensue from prolonged starving, but the medical authorities were still intending to force-feed them if it looked like they might die.

Force-feeding is a horrible process, of course, akin to torture, but although medical experts insist that mentally competent prisoners must be allowed to starve themselves to death, if they wish, that does not strike me as relevant at Guantánamo, where the men on hunger strike have never been tried or convicted of any crime, and allowing them to die would actually endorse the very reason they are hunger striking in the first place — because they are being held without charge or trial, with no end in sight to their preposterously long ordeal, and they have no other way of protesting about the injustice of their predicament. Read the rest of this entry »

Celebrities Fasting With the Hunger Striking Guantánamo Prisoners That Donald Trump Is Allowing to Die

Some of those fasting in solidarity with the hunger striking prisoners at Guantanamo, who are at risk of dying under a new policy implemented by the Trump administration on September 20, 2017. Clockwise from top left: Roger Waters, Tom Watson MP, Sara Pascoe, David Morrissey, Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry.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.

 

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.

It’s two weeks since the international human rights organization Reprieve let the world know that, under Donald Trump, the military at Guantánamo has come up with a disturbing new way of dealing with hunger strikers — allowing them to die. Previously, long-term hunger strikers who lost one-fifth of their body weight but refused to stop hunger striking were force-fed — a barbaric process that experts view as tantamount to torture, and a view that I endorse. However, although experts also state that competent hunger strikers must be allowed to die if they wish, that has always struck me as an unacceptable option for prisoners who have never been convicted of a crime. The third option, which should be implemented, is for the US government to do what the hunger strikers want — which is to be charged or released.

I broke the news of this disturbing policy change on my website on October 7, and followed up with an analysis of the New York Times’ coverage four days after. Since then there have been op-eds by the two prisoners represented by Reprieve, Ahmed Rabbani (in Newsweek) and Khalid Qassim (in the Guardian), and to accompany the coverage — finally shining a light back on Guantánamo after, for the most part, silence on the topic since Donald Trump took office — Reprieve launched a petition to Donald Trump, asking for him to allow independent medical experts to assess the health of the hunger strikers, and to close Guantánamo for good, which currently has nearly 22,000 signatures, and also encouraged supporters to fast in solidarity with the hunger strikers.

Reprieve’s founder, Clive Stafford Smith, led the way with the fasting (for five days straight), and was soon joined by others. Over a thousand days have been pledged so far, with some well-known people joining in, like music legend Roger Waters, formerly of Pink Floyd, who wrote on Facebook: Read the rest of this entry »

Ahmed Al-Darbi, Admitted Terrorist at Guantánamo, Receives 13-Year Sentence Following 2014 Plea Deal

Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed al-Darbi, with a photo of his children, in a photo taken several years ago by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.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.

 

Last Friday, the US authorities secured a rare success at Guantánamo, when a panel of US military officers gave a 13-year sentence to Ahmed al-Darbi, a Saudi prisoner, for what the New York Times described as “his admitted role in a 2002 attack by Al Qaeda on a French oil tanker off the Yemeni coast.”

Al-Darbi had pleaded guilty in his military commission trial in February 2014, but his sentencing had not taken place until now because it was dependent upon him providing testimony for the trials of other prisoners, testimony that he undertook this summer, providing videotaped testimony against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who is on trial for his alleged involvement in the bombing off the USS Cole in 2000, and a deposition in the case of Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, another prisoner facing a trial by military commission.

Under the terms of the plea deal, as Charlie Savage described it in the New York Times, “the commission could have imposed a sentence of 13 to 15 years.” However, the prosecutors joined with al-Darbi’s defense team to ask for “the minimum available term in light of his extensive assistance to the government.” As Savage put it, al-Darbi “has renounced Islamist ideology and lived apart from the general detainee population for years.” Read the rest of this entry »

“When Will My Organs Fail? When Will My Heart Stop?”: Guantánamo Hunger Striker Khalid Qassim Fears Death Under Trump’s New Policy

Guantanamo prisoner Khalid Qassim (aka Qasim), in a photo from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.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.

 

It’s eleven days since prisoners at Guantánamo, represented by the human rights organization Reprieve, reminded a forgetful world of the never-ending injustice of the prison. Ahmed Rabbani, a Pakistani prisoner, and Khalid Qassim (aka Qasim), a Yemeni, both long-term hunger strikers, told their lawyers that, since September 20, “a new Senior Medical Officer (SMO) stopped tube-feeding the strikers, and ended the standard practice of closely monitoring their declining health.”

I wrote about the plight of the hunger strikers — and Donald Trump’s disturbing new policy — in an article last Saturday, but at the time the rest of the world’s mainstream media showed no interest in it. It took another four days for the New York Times to report on the story, and even then Charlie Savage accepted assurances from the US authorities that “an 11-year-old military policy permitting the involuntary feeding of hunger-striking detainees remained in effect,” an assertion that I regard as untrustworthy, because the US military has a long track record of being untrustworthy when it comes to telling the truth about Guantánamo.

Last Thursday, Reprieve followed up on its initial reporting by securing an op-ed in Newsweek by Ahmed Rabbani, entitled, “Dear President Trump, Close Guantánamo Bay and Give Us a Fair Trial”, which I reported here, and on Friday the Guardian gave Khalid Qassim the opportunity to comment. His article, “I am in Guantánamo Bay. The US government is starving me to death,” is cross-posted below, and I hope you have time to read it, and will share it if you find it useful. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Hunger Striker Ahmed Rabbani, Left to Die by Trump, Calls for “Basic Justice – a Fair Trial or Freedom”

Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed Rabbani in a photo made available by his lawyers at Reprieve, and taken before his weight dropped to under 100 pounds as a hunger striker.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.

 

It’s now nine days since the international human rights organization Reprieve issued a shocking press release, explaining that two clients at Guantánamo, the Pakistani Ahmed Rabbani, and Khalid Qassim (aka Qasim), a Yemeni, both hunger striking to protest about the injustice of their seemingly endless imprisonment without charge or trial, had told them that, since September 20, following new instructions from Donald Trump, “a new Senior Medical Officer (SMO) stopped tube-feeding the strikers, and ended the standard practice of closely monitoring their declining health.”

I immediately wrote an article about the news, and was, frankly, astonished that it took another four days for the mainstream media to respond — and when that happened, it was just the New York Times paying attention, and, to my mind, giving too much credibility to the authorities, via a spokesman who claimed that the military’s “11-year-old military policy permitting the involuntary feeding of hunger-striking detainees remained in effect.” Given the lies we have heard from the military at Guantánamo over the years, I asked, in an analysis of the New York Times article, why we should trust them.

Expanding on the story further, Reprieve, on Thursday, secured coverage in Newsweek — a description of the current situation, made in a phone call to Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of Reprieve, by Ahmed Rabbani, who has been at Guantánamo, without charge or trial, for just over 12 years, and who, before that, was held and tortured for 545 days in CIA “black sites” including the disgusting “black site” in Afghanistan, codenamed COBALT, which was known to the prisoners as the “dark prison.” 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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