Skeletal, 75-Pound Guantánamo Hunger Striker Tariq Ba Odah Seeks Release; Medical Experts Fear For His Life

A restraint chair at Guantanamo, used to force-feed prisoners (Photo by Jason Leopold).I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with 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.

For the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, introduced by the United Nations in 1997 to mark the entry into force of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment on June 26, 1987, a vivid reminder of the horrors of Guantánamo emerged the day before, when lawyers for Tariq Ba Odah, a Yemeni prisoner identified by the US authorities as Tarek Baada, sought “a court order granting his habeas petition and compelling the government to facilitate [his] immediate release” because of fears that, otherwise, he will die at the prison. The submission to the court is here.

Tariq, who was picked up in Pakistan by the local authorities at the end of 2001 and turned over to the US military, arrived at Guantánamo shortly after the prison opened in 2002, when he was 23 years old. He is now 36, and he is still held despite being approved for release in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009. He is one of 30 men, all Yemenis, who were placed in a category invented by the task force — “conditional detention,” which was made dependant on perceptions of the security situation in his home country improving, although it was never made clear who would make that decision, or how it would come about.

However, since President Obama began finding new homes in third countries for Yemenis approved for release last November, the only obstacle to his release now is the difficulty of finding a country to accept him, as well as countries prepared to offer new homes to the 29 other Yemenis in “conditional detention,” and 13 other Yemenis approved for release by the task force — or approved for release in the last year and a half by Periodic Review Boards — but still held. Since last November, 18 Yemenis have been released from Guantánamo to third countries. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio, TV and Live Events: Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo and the Need to Close the Prison During His US Tour

Andy Worthington speaking to Bill Newman, a civil rights and criminal defense attorney and the director of the western Massachusetts office of the ACLU, on his weekday radio talk show on WHMP in Northampton, Massachusetts on January 14, 2015, during Andy's recent US tour.I’m back from my US tour, recovering from jet lag and fatigue as a result of a punishing (if rewarding) Stateside schedule, in which, over an 11-day period, I visited New York, Washington D.C., Boston and other locations in Massachusetts, and Chicago as part of series of events to mark the 13th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo, organized by Debra Sweet of World Can’t Wait, who accompanied me for the majority of the visit. I’ve already posted videos of me speaking outside the White House on the anniversary, and a video of an event at New America on January 12 at which I spoke along with the attorney Tom Wilner and Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of the military commissions at Guantánamo, who is now an implacable critic of the “war on terror.”

Below, I’m posting links to three radio shows I did on January 14, when I was in Massachusetts (one of which was with a show in Chicago, and was broadcast the day after), and a TV interview I did that same day for a local news show, WWLP-22News. On that particularly busy day, I also spoke at two events, for which videos will shortly be available.

For my first interview, at 9am, I spoke to Bill Newman, a civil rights and criminal defense attorney and the director of the western Massachusetts office of the ACLU, who hosts a weekday radio talk show on WHMP in Northampton, Massachusetts. Bill also worked as co-counsel on behalf of a Guantánamo prisoner several years ago. Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t Forget the Hunger Strike at Guantánamo

It is now 119 days since the prison-wide hunger strike began at Guantánamo, and 12 days since President Obama delivered a powerful speech at the National Defense University, in which he promised to resume releasing prisoners. The process of releasing prisoners — based on the deliberations of an inter-agency task force established by President Obama in 2009, which concluded that 86 of the remaining 166 prisoners should be released — has been largely derailed, since August 2010, by Congressional opposition, but must resume if President Obama is not to be judged as the President who, while promising to close the prison, in fact kept it open, normalizing indefinite detention.

The obstacles raised by Congress consist primarily of a ban on the release of prisoners to any country where even a single individual has allegedly engaged in “recidivism” (returning to the battlefield), and a demand that the secretary of defense must certify that, if released to a country that is not banned, a prisoner will not, in future, engage in terrorism. Practically, however, the men are still held because of President Obama’s refusal to deal with this either by confronting Congress or by using a waiver in the legislation that allows him and the secretary of defense to bypass Congress and release prisoners if he regards it as being “in the national security interests of the United States.”

Monitoring the hunger strike — and pointing out that President Obama must keep his promises — are both hugely important, especially as the media, and people in general, may well lose interest after President Obama’s speech, and believe that, because he has made promises, those promises will inevitably come true. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses the Guantánamo Hunger Strike with Dennis Bernstein and Michael Slate

The hunger strike in Guantánamo, which is now in its 74th day, continues to draw attention, although it is important that everyone who cares about it keeps publicizing the story — and keeps reminding the mainstream media to keep reporting it — or it will be lost in the hysteria emanating from the Boston bombings, which right-wingers, of course, are using to replenish their Islamophobia — one aim of which will be to shut down discussion of Guantánamo, in order to keep the prison open.

As my contribution to keeping the story alive, I’ve been publishing articles about the hunger strike on an almost daily basis, and have also been taking part in as many media appearances as possible. On Monday, after the military had clamped down on the hunger strike with violence last weekend, firing non-lethal rounds and moving the majority of the prisoners into solitary, I received several invitations to take part in TV and radio shows, but all but two fizzled out when the Boston bombing occurred. One of the two was a Canadian radio station, and the other was with Dennis Bernstein on Flashpoints, on KPFA in Berkeley, California.

My interview with Dennis is available here, just three weeks after our last discussion about Guantánamo, and I was pleased to be joined by Candace Gorman, the Chicago-based attorney who represents two Guantánamo prisoners — one still held, and the other freed in 2010 — and Stephanie Tang of the World Can’t Wait. Both are friends, and between us, and with Dennis’s informed interest in the topic, I believe we thoroughly analyzed the dreadful situation that is still unfolding at Guantánamo, and pointed out the urgent necessity for President Obama to take action. Read the rest of this entry »

“No Indefinite Detention at Guantánamo,” US Claims, Defying Reality

We live in surreal times. President Obama, who promised “hope and change,” has, instead, proven to be a worthy successor to George W. Bush as a warmonger and a defender of those in positions of power and authority who authorized the use of torture.

In addition, when it comes to another hallmark of Bush-era crimes — indefinite detention without charge or trial, for those that the Bush administration identified as “enemy combatants” — President Obama has gone further than his predecessor.

After the sustained paranoia of the first few years after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush found his policies challenged by the Supreme Court, and subjected to international criticism, and began to back down. Obama, however, having promised to close Guantánamo, but then having discovered that it was politically difficult to do so, has contented himself with finding justifications for continuing to hold the 166 men still at Guantánamo, possibly for the rest of their lives.

This is in spite of the fact that over half of them (86 men in total) were cleared for release by an inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force established in 2009 by President Obama himself, consisting of around 60 officials from the main government departments and the intelligence agencies, who met every week to examine the prisoners’ cases, and to decide who should be released, who should be tried, and — shockingly — who should continue to be held without charge or trial, on the basis that they were too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »

From Guantánamo, An Innocent Man Pleads for Release

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with 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.

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we have long despaired that the power of black propaganda is such that the Bush administration’s claim that Guantánamo held “the worst of the worst” has had a disturbing and enduring power. The reality, as those who have studied Guantánamo know, is that this is an empty claim, not backed up by evidence.

In fact, few of the 779 men held at Guantánamo throughout its 11-year history are genuinely alleged to have had any connection to al-Qaeda, the 9/11 attacks, or any other examples of international terrorism. Sold for bounty payments, or rounded up through woefully inept intelligence, the men and boys flown to Guantánamo were generally so insignificant — either in the wrong place at the wrong time, or mere foot soldiers in an inter-Muslim civil war in Afghanistan that predated the 9/11 attacks and had nothing to do with terrorism — that reasons had to be created to justify holding them, even though, for the most part, the authorities did not see it that way. Convinced that their prisoners were holding out on them, they tortured, abused or bribed them into making false statements — about themselves, and about their fellow prisoners — that could be used to justify holding them. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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