For Ramadan, Write to the Forgotten Prisoners in Guantánamo

Friday was the start of the holy month of Ramadan, and it seems to me that, for both Muslims and non-Muslims alike, there is no better time to send a message of support to the remaining 168 prisoners in America’s reviled prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

This is a campaign initiated two years ago by two Facebook friends, Shahrina J. Ahmed and Mahfuja Bint Ammu, and repeated every six months (see here, here, here and here), but it is depressing to note that just eleven prisoners have left Guantánamo alive in the last two years, and two others left in coffins.

The men still held at Guantánamo have been failed by President Obama, who promised to close the prison within a year of taking office in January 2009, and then resoundingly failed to do so. Compounding this failure, President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, comprising career officials, lawyers and experts from all the relevant government departments and from the intelligence agencies, who analyzed the prisoners’ cases throughout 2009, concluded that 87 of the remaining 168 prisoners should be released, although they are still held. Read the rest of this entry »

Six Years in Hell: Former Prisoner Omar Deghayes Recalls Bagram and Guantánamo

Former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Deghayes (seized in Pakistan in May 2002 and released to the UK in December 2007) is a friend and colleague of mine, who featured in the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which I co-directed with filmmaker Polly Nash, and he traveled around the country with me two years ago, showing the film and taking part in Q&A sessions in numerous locations. Omar’s story is central to the impact of “Outside the Law,” and video clips of him speaking about his experiences in Pakistani custody, and in US custody in Bagram and Guantánamo, from the long interview that Polly and I drew on for “Outside the Law” are here.

Omar also conducted a detailed interview with the Guardian in January 2010, which I cross-posted here, and a wealth of information about him is available in my archive of articles about him (or by following the links in my entry about him in my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, which I updated last week (Omar’s prisoner number at Guantánamo was 727). On Sunday, an article based on an interview with him was published in the Express Tribune in Pakistan, and I’m cross-posting it below, for those who didn’t see it, both to provide a reminder of the violence to which prisoners in Guantánamo have been subjected over the last ten years, and — hopefully — to allow new readers to become acquainted with Omar’s story, and his particular approach to the injustices to which he was subjected.

Like all of the former prisoners I have met, Omar is not consumed with hatred towards those who imprisoned him and brutalized him for so many years, and continues to accentuate the positive, stating that, amongst his fellow prisoners, there were teachers, linguists and journalists, and “there was a lot to learn from them.” However, he does warn the US government that “[t]he only thing these kind of prisons achieve is more hatred, turning more youngsters toward extremism,”  which, I believe, is sadly true. 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 »

Moazzam Begg, Andy Worthington and Polly Nash Attend Screening of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” at the European Parliament, Brussels, January 24, 2012

On Tuesday January 24, at 7 pm, there will be a special screening of the acclaimed documentary film “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington) at the European Parliament in Brussels. The screening will take place in the main European Parliament building, the Altiero Spinelli Building, Rue Wiertz, in Room ASP – 3G2, on the 3rd floor, and Moazzam Begg, former Guantánamo prisoner, and the director of the NGO Cageprisoners, will be joining Andy Worthington and Polly Nash for the screening, and for the Q&A session afterwards.

The screening has been arranged by Jean Lambert (UK Green MEP), with the support of Sarah Ludford (UK Liberal Democrat MEP) and Ana Gomes (Portuguese Socialist MEP), and the purpose of the screening is to raise awareness of the continued existence of Guantánamo, and its mockery of universal notions of fairness and justice, ten years after the prison opened, on January 11, 2002. Given President Obama’s very public failure to close the prison as promised, it is essential that other countries step forward to take cleared prisoners who cannot be safely repatriated, and one of the main purposes of the screening and the visit of Moazzam Begg and Andy Worthington is to encourage EU countries to re-engage with the process of resettling prisoners that was so successful in 2009 and 2010.

The screening is free, but anyone who wishes to attend needs to contact Rachel Sheppard, the Parliamentary Assistant to Jean Lambert MEP. If those wishing to attend do not already have an access badge for the European Parliament, they need to provide their full name, date of birth, nationality, passport number or ID card and number and also specify the type of document (passport, ID card) so that access badges can be arranged. Without an access badge, those wishing to attend the screening will not be allowed. Read the rest of this entry »

On Guantánamo’s 10th Anniversary, British Ex-Prisoners Talk About Their Lives, and Call for the Release of Shaker Aamer

With the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo fast approaching (on January 11), I was delighted that, on Sunday, the Observer not only ran a double-page feature about the British ex-prisoners (and Shaker Aamer, the last British prisoner still held), but also that Tracy McVeigh, Chief Reporter for the Observer, spoke to me on the phone, quoted me in the article, and used my phrase “toxic legacy” to describe Guantánamo since outgoing President George W. Bush handed it on to President Obama, who, notoriously, failed to close it within a year, as he promised when he took office three years ago.

As I have been explaining since the 9th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo a year ago, it is now appropriate to regard most of, if not all of the remaining 171 prisoners as political prisoners, given that the Obama administration, Congress and the judiciary have all made sure that Guantánamo may never close, and that few, if any of the remaining prisoners will ever be released, even though 89 of them were cleared for release (or, technically, “approved for transfer”) by the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established in January 2009.

The situation is no better for the other 82 prisoners, who are either scheduled to face trials that, in most cases, show no signs of materializing, or, in 46 cases, have been specifically designated as prisoners to be held indefinitely without charge or trial by President Obama, in an executive order last March. Although the President promised periodic reviews for these prisoners, his executive order essentially enshrines the indefensible —  indefinite detention without charge or trial — as an official policy of his administration, even though he and senior officials have been at pains to point out that it applies only to these men, and is not to be construed as lending credibility to indefinite detention in general. Read the rest of this entry »

An End to Gaddafi’s Tyranny: The Liberation of the Hated Abu Salim Prison

With Libya’s former dictator Muammar Gaddafi in hiding, the uprising against his 42-year rule that began on February 15, and that, almost since it began, has been contentiously supported by NATO, has finally succeeded in providing a shadowy glimpse of a new life for the Libyan people. Huge difficulties lie ahead — preventing recriminatory horrors by the rebels, creating a new government and civil society out of nowhere after four decades of iron-fisted control by one man and his family, and ascertaining what the West wants and working out how to prevent it from destroying liberated Libya like the supposedly liberated Iraq of eight years ago.

For now, however, I am delighted that his main compound in Tripoli and his gaudy palaces have been ransacked, and, in particular, that his main prison, Abu Salim, has been liberated. My interest in Libya stems not only from a general revulsion at the barbarity of dictatorships, but also through my friendship with Omar Deghayes, the former Guantánamo prisoner who came to the UK as a child in the 1980s after his father, a lawyer and trade union activist, was murdered by Gaddafi.

Through Omar, I met other Libyans, like the brave filmmaker Mohamed Maklouf, and also learned about the single most outrageous act of Gaddafi’s dictatorship — the massacre of 1,200 prisoners at Abu Salim on June 29, 1996. I wrote a detailed article about the massacre on its 13th anniversary, in 2009, and as the uprising against Gaddafi began in Benghazi, in February, I found it appropriate that the spark for Libya’s revolution was the arrest in Benghazi on February 15 of Fathi Terbil, a lawyer who represents the families of those killed in the Abu Salim massacre, and who lost three family members, including his brother, in the massacre, as I explained in my article, “How the Abu Salim Prison Massacre in 1996 Inspired the Revolution in Libya.” 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 »

A Good Day for Justice: British Supreme Court Bans Use of Secret Evidence by Intelligence Services

In a triumph for the principles of open justice, and a snub to the Tory-led coalition government, the British Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Wednesday that the government and the intelligence agencies cannot use secret evidence in court to prevent open discussion of allegations that prisoners were subjected to torture.

The appeal, by lawyers for MI5 — but with the explicit backing of the government — sought to overturn a ruling in the Court of Appeal last May, when judges ruled that the intelligence services could not suppress allegations, in a civil claim for damages submitted by six former Guantanamo prisoners, that the British government and its agents had been complicit in their ill-treatment. The six are Bisher al-Rawi, Jamil el-Banna, Richard Belmar, Omar Deghayes, Binyam Mohamed and Martin Mubanga, and they argued, as the Guardian put it, that “MI5 and MI6 aided and abetted their unlawful imprisonment and extraordinary rendition.”

The ruling last May precipitated a huge crisis in the government, as the first of hundreds of thousands of classified documents emerged from the court, revealing the extent to which Tony Blair and Jack Straw were up to their necks in wrongdoing, preventing consular access to a British citizen in Zambia, in Tony Blair’s case, and in Straw’s, approving the rendition of British citizens to Guantanamo the day before the prison opened in January 2002. I covered this story in detail in my article, UK Sought Rendition of British Nationals to Guantánamo; Tony Blair Directly Involved. Read the rest of this entry »

Five New UK Screenings of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” with WikiLeaks Partner Andy Worthington — in London, Cardiff, Shropshire and York

“‘Outside the Law’ is a powerful film that has helped ensure that Guantánamo and the men unlawfully held there have not been forgotten.”
Kate Allen, Director, Amnesty International UK

“[T]his is a strong movie examining the imprisonment and subsequent torture of those falsely accused of anti-American conspiracy.”
Joe Burnham, Time Out

“Every American needs to watch this film. Or at least every mouthpiece in the corporate media. They should broadcast this instead of the WWII Holocaust documentaries, which play on rotation on the cable networks.”
Alexa O’Brien, journalist, WL Central

As featured on Democracy Now!, ABC News and Truthout. Buy the DVD here (£10 + £2 postage in the UK, and worldwide) or here if in the US ($10 post free). Read the rest of this entry »

Two New UK Screenings of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” with WikiLeaks Partner Andy Worthington – in Leicester and Hull

“‘Outside the Law’ is a powerful film that has helped ensure that Guantánamo and the men unlawfully held there have not been forgotten.”
Kate Allen, Director, Amnesty International UK

“[T]his is a strong movie examining the imprisonment and subsequent torture of those falsely accused of anti-American conspiracy.”
Joe Burnham, Time Out

As featured on Democracy Now!, ABC News and Truthout. Buy the DVD here (£10 + £2 postage in the UK, and worldwide) or here if in the US ($10 post free).

In February and March, after a promising start to this year’s UK student tour of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which is supported by Amnesty International UK (and which followed a successful 35-date UK tour last year), Andy Worthington, the film’s co-director (with Polly Nash), became seriously ill, and spent two weeks in hospital, and another month recovering.

Now back on his feet, Andy is hoping to reschedule some of the dates that he was obliged to miss through illness, and is also arranging new dates, the first two of which are listed below. Others, in June, will follow soon, and will be added to the dedicated page for the tour, which is updated whenever new dates are arranged. 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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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