An Interview with Guantánamo Expert Andy Worthington for The Prisma, An Online Multi-Cultural Newspaper

Recently, I was interviewed by a young Spanish journalist, Francisco Castañón, for The Prisma, an online multicultural newspaper. The interview is here, and in it I explained how I came to write about Guantánamo, for my book The Guantánamo Files, and I also ran through aspects of the story of Guantánamo, past, present and future to help to explain why the prison is still open, and why its continued existence is so monstrously unjust. I hope you find it useful.

Andy Worthington, Guantánamo and the survivors
By Francisco Castañón, The Prisma, October 13, 2013

Since Obama took power in 2009, he has freed 73 of the prisoners in Guantánamo, of the 240 prisoners who were held when he took office. Three others have died. But in the last three years Congress approved new laws which made the promise to close the prison even more difficult to fulfill.

Former prisoners like Omar Deghayes, Moazzam Begg and Murat Kurnaz have made public the extreme conditions which the prisoners are still suffering.

Kurnaz told how difficult it was to live in a solitary confinement cell, to keep himself alive in such a small space with just enough air to breathe. Read the rest of this entry »

The Long Pursuit of Accountability for the Bush Administration’s Torture Program

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 »

To Mark 10 Years of Guantánamo, Stern Magazine Profiles Five Former Prisoners

Last week, when I cross-posted an article written for the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo by my friend Todd Pierce, I also noted that when I visited the US in January to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo Bay, I was so busy that I did not have time to cross-post other articles of interest that were published at the time, and added, “In the hope of keeping alive some of that spirit of awareness about the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo that flickered briefly to life around the anniversary, I’m planning to cross-post some of these articles.”

After starting with Todd’s article, I’m now moving on to a detailed article that was published in Germany’s Stern Magazineavailable here as a PDF, and helpfully translated into English for Cageprisoners, via Google Translate, in a translation that I have tidied up.

The article features interviews with five former prisoners — Sami al-Laithi (aka el-Leithi), an Egyptian; Omar Deghayes, a British resident; Mohammed el-Gharani, a Chadian and former child prisoner; Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, an Afghan and a former Taliban ambassador; and Abu Bakker Qassim, a Uighur (a Muslim from China’s Xinjiang province) released from Guantánamo to Albania. The stories of all of these men have been reported before, but fresh eyes and ears are also ways useful to continue to expose the horrific history of Guantánamo, and its ongoing injustices, and the Stern article also featured a collection of powerful photos, as well as quotes from other prisoners — David Hicks (from Australia), Murat Kurnaz (from Germany) and Moazzam Begg (from the UK). Read the rest of this entry »

London Events for the 10th Anniversary of the Opening of Guantánamo

I arrived in New York yesterday, a year after my last visit, for 12 days of events to mark the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo (as described here), with a particular focus on a rally and march in Washington D.C. next Wednesday, January 11 (the actual date of the opening of Guantánamo). On arrival, I was met by Debra Sweet, national director of The World Can’t Wait, who arranged my visit, and we immediately made our way to the Brecht Forum on the West Side Highway for a fascinating event, “Building a Movement to Close Guantánamo and End All Unjust Detentions,” which focused on building bridges between those working to close Guantánamo and those campaigning against unjust trials and detentions in the US. There I was delighted to meet up, for the first time since last January, with Pardiss Kebriaei and Leili Kashani of the Center for Constitutional Rights (with whom I have been working on reports forthe 10th anniversary, to be published very soon), and also with another old friend, Guantánamo attorney and law professor Ramzi Kassem, and also Faisal Hashmi of the Muslim Justice Initiative, the brother of Fahad Hashmi, whose unfair extradition from the UK and unfair trial and disproportionately punitive sentence in the US in 2010 — after three and a half years kept in isolation in New York — I wrote about here.

I hope to write more about this event and others in the coming days, but for now, while I’m absolutely delighted to be here, meeting up with old friends, making new friends and campaigning for the closure of Guantánamo where it matters the most, I’m also pleased to note that a number of compelling events have been lined up in London, which I’m delighted to publicize below:

Saturday January 7, 2012, 2-4pm: Shut Guantánamo – End 10 Years of Shame
Public Rally, Trafalgar Square, London, at the top of the steps outside the National Gallery.

This event is organized by the London Guantánamo Campaign, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, Stop the War Coalition and CND. Read the rest of this entry »

The Complete Guantánamo Files: WikiLeaks and the Prisoners Released in 2006 (Part One of Ten)

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Freelance investigative journalist Andy Worthington continues his 70-part, million-word series telling, for the first time, the stories of 776 of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. Adding information released by WikiLeaks in April 2011 to the existing documentation about the prisoners, much of which was already covered in Andy’s book The Guantánamo Files and in the archive of articles on his website, the project will be completed in time for the 10th anniversary of the prison’s opening on January 11, 2012.

This is Part 21 of the 70-part series. 271 stories have now been told. See the entire archive here.

In late April, I worked with WikiLeaks as a media partner for the publication of thousands of pages of classified military documents — the Detainee Assessment Briefs — relating to almost all of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. These documents drew heavily on the testimony of the prisoners’ fellow inmates (either in Guantánamo, or in secret prisons run by or on behalf of the CIA), whose statements are unreliable, either because they were subjected to torture or other forms of coercion, or because they provided false statements to secure better treatment in Guantánamo.

The documents were compiled by the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo (JTF GTMO), which operates the prison, and were based on assessments and reports made by interrogators and analysts whose primary concern was to “exploit” the prisoners for their intelligence value. They also include input from the Criminal Investigative Task Force, created by the DoD in 2002 to conduct interrogations on a law enforcement basis, rather than for “actionable intelligence.”

My ongoing analysis of the documents began in May, with a five-part series, “WikiLeaks: The Unknown Prisoners of Guantánamo,” telling the stories of 84 prisoners, released between 2002 and 2004, whose stories had never been told before. This was followed by a ten-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004,” in which I revisited the stories of 114 other prisoners released in this period, adding information from the Detainee Assessment Briefs to what was already known about these men and boys from press reports and other sources. This was followed by another five-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released After the Tribunals, 2004 to 2005,” dealing with the period from September 2004 to the end of 2005, when 62 prisoners were released. Read the rest of this entry »

New Revelations About The Use of Water Torture at Guantánamo

For Truthout, my colleague Jeffrey Kaye, who is a full-time psychologist but somehow manages also to pursue a second career as a blogger, has just written an article about the use of water torture at Guantánamo (and elsewhere in the “War on Terror”), which has been securing excellent coverage online.

I’m delighted to discover that people remain interested in the Bush administration’s use of torture, and questions of accountability that have been brushed under the carpet by President Obama, not just because terrible crimes have been committed and no one has been held accountable, but also because the topic of America’s torture program has generally slipped off the media’s radar (as has that other abiding topic of interest of mine, Guantánamo, and the 171 prisoners still held).

Jeff has done a great job in pulling together examples of prisoners who were subjected not to waterboarding, but to other forms of torture using water that the Bush administration largely managed to avoid mentioning or being asked to justify, including Murat Kurnaz, who discussed having his head held under water in his book, Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantánamo, first published in 2007, Mohammed al-Qahtani, the most notorious torture victim at Guantánamo, and others — the Mauritanian Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who was, notoriously, “broken” by torture at Guantánamo, and who had water poured over him to “enforce control” and “keep [him] awake,” the British resident Omar Deghayes, the Algerian Djamel Ameziane (still held, despite being cleared for release many years ago), and Mustafa Ait Idr, an Algerian living in Bosnia-Herzegovina, released in 2008 after winning his habeas petition, whose torture using water I mentioned in The Guantánamo Files, and in my article, After 7 Years, Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo Kidnap Victims. Also of interest are examples from Iraq, which have also not been publicized widely. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Murat Kurnaz Tells His Story on Russia Today

In an 11-minute interview with Russia Today (see below), former Guantánamo prisoner Murat Kurnaz recalled how he was seized in Pakistan in November 2001, and his experiences in US custody in Afghanistan and at Guantánamo. Born in Germany, but only regarded as a resident because his parents are Turkish, Kurnaz was released in August 2006, when Chancellor Angela Merkel made his case a priority after years of indifference by the German government.

I have met Murat Kurnaz (once, at the launch of his book, Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantánamo), and I also appeared once with him on Al-Jazeera (in 2008). I have also discussed his case, in my book The Guantánamo Files, and in my articles, Murat Kurnaz: Five Years in Guantánamo and Former Guantánamo detainees speak: Murat Kurnaz, Mamdouh Habib and Abdur Rahim Muslim Dost (in 2007), and in 2008 I reported his opinions about the deaths of three men at Guantánamo, in mysterious circumstances, on June 9, 2006, which the authorities described as a triple suicide. He is also mentioned in a UN report on secret detention that I worked on (which was published last year), and in a Human Rights Watch report on European complicity in torture, which I discussed last July. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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