Standing the Test of Time: “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo”

The poster for the documentary film “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo”, directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, which recently marked the tenth anniversary of its release.

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On Friday, I was delighted to take part in one of the few regular Guantánamo-related events that are left in my calendar, as the prison becomes something of a footnote in the history books.

This amnesia is, to be blunt, genuinely alarming, because the prison is as malignantly alive as ever, a pointless zombie facility still holding 40 men, mostly without charge or trial, for whom no legal mechanism to secure their release exists, and who will all die there unless there is a change of government, and an awakened sense of outrage in the three bodies that supposedly provide checks and balances to prevent any manifestation of executive overreach in the US — the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court, all of whom have failed the men still held.

The event on Friday was a screening of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” — the documentary film I co-directed with Polly Nash, which was released ten years ago, in October 2009 — to second-year students at the University of Westminster, who are studying International Relations under Sam Raphael, followed by a lively discussion about Guantánamo past, present and future.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Long Persecution of John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban”

John Walker Lindh, strapped to a gurney in Camp Rhino, near Kandahar, after his capture in December 2001, when he had already survived a massacre at the Qala-i-Janghi fort.

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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.





 

The US establishment is nervous about John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban.” 

A US citizen, Lindh was taken into custody by US forces in Afghanistan in December 2001, along with around 85 other Taliban fighters, survivors of a massacre — the Qala-i-Janghi massacre — that is largely forgotten. He received a 20-year prison sentence in a federal court on the US mainland in May 2002 for providing material support to terrorism, but had his sentence reduced by three years because of good behavior. 

He was released on May 23, but with restrictions imposed by a federal judge. As the Associated Press described it, “Lindh’s internet devices must have monitoring software; his online communications must be conducted in English; he must undergo mental health counseling; he is forbidden to possess or view extremist material; and he cannot hold a passport or leave the US.”

Donald Trump opposed his early release, as did Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. It was reported back in 2015 that, from prison, he had expressed support for Daesh (aka Islamic State or Isis). For the Atlantic, staff writer Graeme Wood, based on prison correspondence with Lindh, claimed that he was “permanently devoted” to violent jihad, and that “public security demands nothing less than close observation [of Lindh] for a very, very long time.” 

Read the rest of this entry »

As Mohamedou Ould Slahi is Denied a Passport, Remember That All Former Guantánamo Prisoners Live Without Fundamental Rights

Mohamedou Ould Slahi, photographed in the desert after his release, with a message of peace. Photo from Mohamedou's Facebook page.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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




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.

In the long quest for justice for the 779 men and boys held at Guantánamo, it’s not just the 40 men still held who are victims of the US’s contempt for the law in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Although they, shamefully, remain held indefinitely without charge or trial, or are charged in a broken trial system, the military commissions, that seems incapable of delivering justice, those who have been released from the prison also face problems that, in many cases, will make the rest of their lives a misery.

This is an important fact that those paying attention were reminded of two weeks ago, when Literary Hub published an article about the tribulations of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, torture survivor and best-selling author, who, after nearly 15 years in US custody, was released in his native Mauritania in October 2016.

Although he was never charged with a crime, along with the majority of former Guantánamo prisoners, Slahi expected that there would be restrictions on his freedom following his release, and, sure enough, as Literary Hub described it, “the day after he returned to Nouakchott, Mauritania’s director of state security told him that he couldn’t leave the country for two years.”

Read the rest of this entry »

No Justice at Guantánamo: The Release of Ahmed Al-Darbi, and Moazzam Begg’s Reflections

Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed al-Darbi, with a photo of his children, in a photo taken at Guantanamo 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.





 

At the start of this month, Donald Trump transferred his first prisoner out of Guantánamo, the Saudi citizen Ahmed al-Darbi, who was repatriated as part of a plea deal arranged in his military commission proceedings in February 2014. However, he did not return home a free man, as, in his homeland, he will serve the remainder of a 13-year sentence agreed in his plea deal.

As I explained in an article at the time, “Under the terms of that plea deal, al-Darbi acknowledged his role in an-Qaeda attack on a French oil tanker off the coast of Yemen’s coast in 2002, and was required to testify against other prisoners at Guantánamo as part of their military commission trials, which he did last summer, and was supposed to be released on February 20 this year. However, February 20 came and went, and al-Darbi wasn’t released, a situation that threatened to undermine the credibility of the military commission plea deals.”

Al-Darbi’s transfer saved the only functioning part of the otherwise broken military commission trial system, which is incapable of delivering justice in an actual trial, given that the men in question, although accused of serious crimes, were lavishly subjected to torture over a number of years, and the use of torture, to be blunt, fundamentally undermines any possibility of a fair and just trial. Read the rest of this entry »

WORLD EXCLUSIVE: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Salem Gherebi’s Letter Explaining Why He Voluntarily Returned to Libya from Senegal Despite the Danger in Doing So

Former Guantanamo prisoner Salem Gherebi, 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.





 

Two weeks ago, I published an article about the Senegalese government’s disgraceful intention to repatriate two Libyans released from Guantánamo and given humanitarian asylum in Senegal two years ago, and expressed my alarm that doing so was a fundamental betrayal of the terms of the agreement made by the US when the men’s resettlement took place, which was supposed to guarantee that they wouldn’t be sent back to Libya, because of the dangerous instability in their home country.

That initial article drew on reporting by the Intercept, and also on correspondence with the former prisoner Omar Deghayes, a British resident and Libyan national who knows both men, and who I got to know during the filming, and subsequent touring of the documentary film I co-directed, ‘Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,’ which was released in 2009. A week later the New York Times — and Omar Deghayes, again — confirmed that one of the two men, Salem Gherebi (aka Ghereby), had returned to Libya voluntarily, because he wanted to be reunited with his family, and because he hoped that his connections in the country would prevent him from coming to any harm. My update on the story is here.

Unfortunately, on his return, Salem Gherebi was imprisoned by a militia, Rada, that has a prison at Tripoli’s Mitiga Airport, where human rights abuses have been widely reported. The British NGO CAGE subsequently reported that the other Libyan, Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr (aka Omar Mohammed Khalifh), who didn’t want to be repatriated, had also been sent back to Libya, where he too was imprisoned at the airport. I provided an update about this yesterday. Read the rest of this entry »

Sad Confirmation that Second Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Resettled in Senegal Has Been Forcibly Returned to Libya, Where His Life Is At Risk

Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr (aka Omar Mohammed Khalifh) and Salem Gherebi (aka Ghereby), Libyans resettled in Senegal in April 2016, who have now been sent back to Libya, which is not safe for them, and where they have been imprisoned. The photos are 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.





 

Two weeks ago, I reported the terrible news that two former Guantánamo prisoners, both Libyans, who had been given humanitarian asylum in Senegal two years ago, were about to be sent back to Libya by the Senegalese government. The two men, Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr (aka Omar Mohammed Khalifh) and Salem Gherebi (aka Ghereby), had been approved for release by high-level US government review processes, but they had been resettled in Senegal because it was unsafe for them to be returned to Libya. In negotiations between the US State Department and the Senegalese government, the understanding was that their resettlement would not involve any efforts to repatriate them.

My initial information about the men’s dire situation came from the Intercept, and from discussions with the former prisoner Omar Deghayes, also Libyan, who I got to know well during the filming and touring of ‘Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,’ the documentary film I co-directed with Polly Nash, which was released in 2009.

I continued to liaise with Omar Deghayes, and on April 5 the New York Times got involved, noting that Salem Gherebi had “apparently consented to repatriation,” and it would seem that he did so because he was desperate to be reunited with his wife and children, and was disappointed that they “had not been permitted to stay with him in Senegal,” and also believed he had connections that would protect him on his return. Read the rest of this entry »

After Powerful Screening of ‘Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo’ at Westminster University, I’m Available for Further Events

A screenshot of former Guantanamo prisoner Omar Deghayes in 'Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo', shown at the University of Westminster on November 17, 2017 (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.





 

On Friday, I was delighted to attend a screening of ‘Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo’, the 2009 documentary film I co-directed with Polly Nash, at the University of Westminster, followed by a lively Q&A session with a packed room full of very engaged students.

My thanks to Sam Raphael, Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, for arranging the event. Sam, with Ruth Blakeley, set up The Rendition Project, described on his university page as “an ESRC-funded project which works with NGOs and human rights investigators to uncover and understand human rights violations in the ‘War on Terror.’” Sam’s page also explains that the project “provides an unparalleled picture of the CIA’s torture programme, and has been described by the Guardian as ‘a groundbreaking research project which sheds unprecedented light on one of the most controversial secret operations of recent years.’”

Sam and I have worked together before, most recently last November at ‘Enshrined Injustice: Guantánamo, Torture and the Military Commissions’, a panel discussion at the University of Westminster, which I spoke at, and which Sam moderated, and which also featured Alka Pradhan, Human Rights Counsel at the Guantánamo Bay Military Commissions, and Carla Ferstmann, the director of REDRESS. My report about that and other Guantánamo-related events in London at that time was entitled Parliament and the People: Two Days of London Events About Guantánamo, Torture and the Military Commissions. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: “Zone of Non-Being: Guantánamo,” Featuring Andy Worthington, Omar Deghayes, Clive Stafford Smith, Michael Ratner

A screenshot from 'Zone of Non-Being: Guantanamo', a documentary film released in 2014.Please support my work! 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.





 

Several years ago (actually, way back in December 2012), I was interviewed at my home for a documentary produced by the Islamic Human Rights Commission, which was directed by the filmmaker Turab Shah. For some reason, I never heard about the film being completed (I think its initial screening was in January 2014, when I was in the US), but after Donald Trump became president of the United States, I received an email from the IHRC stating that they were screening the film, which prompted me to look it up, and to discover that it had been put online in July 2014.

The film features a fascinating array of contributors, including myself, former prisoners including Omar Deghayes, Moazzam Begg and Martin Mubanga, Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of Reprieve, the late Michael Ratner, the founder of the Center for Constitutional Rights, the author and academic Arun Kundnani, Ramon Grosfoguel, Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, the journalist Victoria Brittain, the writer Amrit Wilson, and Massoud Shadjareh of the ICRC.

The ICRC described the film as follows: Read the rest of this entry »

Seven Ex-Guantánamo Prisoners Unite in London to Call for Prison’s Closure on Jan. 11; Shaker Aamer Photographed With Inflatable Figure of Himself Outside US Embassy

A historic moment: Former Guantanamo prisoner Shaker Aamer photographed outside the US Embassy on January 7, 2015 with the inflatable figure of himself that was at the heart of the We Stand With Shaker campaign for his release (Photo: Stefano Massimo).Monday January 11 is the 14th anniversary of the opening of the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, and, as over a dozen rights groups hold a protest outside the White House, calling for President Obama to close Guantánamo in his last year in office, seven former Guantánamo prisoners from the UK will gather outside the US Embassy to also demand the closure of the prison.

The seven former prisoners are Shaker Aamer, Moazzam Begg, Ruhal Ahmad, Asif Iqbal, Shafiq Rasul, Bisher al-Rawi and Tarek Dergoul.

Ruhal Ahmad, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul (the Tipton Three) and Tarek Dergoul were released in 2004, Moazzam Begg was released in 2005, Bisher al-Rawi in 2007, and, after extraordinary campaigning from activists, MPs and the media, Shaker Aamer was released on October 30, 2015, eight years after he was first told that the US no longer wanted to hold him.

As the co-founder and co-director of the We Stand With Shaker campaign (with Joanne Macinnes), I will be taking part in the protest outside the White House, as part of a short tour to coincide with the 14th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, and I have brought with from the UK the giant inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer that was the centerpiece of the campaign. The photo above is of Shaker outside the US Embassy on January 7, when Joanne MacInnes and I met up with him to take the photo with campaign photographer Stefano Massimo. Read the rest of this entry »

Charges Against Moazzam Begg Dropped; Why Was He Ever Held in the First Place?

This morning, at the Old Bailey, the Crown Prosecution Service dropped all charges against Moazzam Begg, the former Guantánamo prisoner, who had been arrested in February on the basis of an alleged involvement in terrorism relating to visits he had made to Syria in 2012.

As I explained in an article at the time, “The Suspicious Arrest of Former Guantánamo Prisoner Moazzam Begg,” and in a radio interview with the US reporter Andrea Sears, it was impossible to believe that Begg, one of the most scrutinised Muslims in the UK, would have engaged in any activities that could be construed as terrorism.

He had indeed visited Syria, but had been in search of information relating to the US torture program that the Syrian government undertook on America’s behalf from 2002 onwards. Moreover, after his first visit in the summer of 2012, and before his second and last visit in December, the UK security services had interviewed him and had not attempted to prevent him from underraking his second visit. 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 (The State of London).
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