The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Truth, Lies and Distortions in the Coverage of Shaker Aamer, Soon to be Freed from Guantánamo

Shaker Aamer, photographed at Guantanamo in 2012.In the week since it was announced that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, is to be released, to be returned to his family in the UK, there has been a huge sigh of relief from the many, many people who campaigned for his release — supporters of the long-standing Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, which I have been involved with for many years, attending protests and speaking at events, of We Stand With Shaker, the campaign I established with Joanne MacInnes last November, which drew huge support for photos of celebrities and MPs standing with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker, and supporters of the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, established last November by John McDonnell MP, a persistent supporter of worthy causes and fighter against injustice, who, with Caroline Lucas (our sole Green MP), Jeremy Corbyn and Shaker’s constituency MP, Jane Ellison, has been the most consistent MP supporting Shaker’s cause.

My article celebrating the news of Shaker’s forthcoming release was liked and shared by over 1,500 people on Facebook. Posted on the Close Guantánamo page, it has reached over 21,000 people; on the We Stand With Shaker page it has reached over 11,000 people. Thank you to everyone who has supported the various campaigns to secure Shaker’s release, including the MPs who traveled to Washington D.C. in May to call for his release, meeting with Senators and Obama administration officials — David Davis and Andrew Mitchell of the Conservatives, and Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Slaughter of the Labour Party.

Now, of course, Jeremy is the leader of the Labour Party, and John McDonnell is the shadow chancellor — a wonderful development for those who care about tackling injustice. Jeremy was elected on an anti-austerity platform, and because of his honesty and decency, and all of the above was apparent in his speech as leader to the Labour Party Conference, when he specifically thanked Shaker’s supporters, and in particular the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign: Read the rest of this entry »

Periodic Review Board Approves Release of Fayiz Al-Kandari, the Last Kuwaiti in Guantánamo

Fayiz al-Kandari, photographed at Guantanamo in 2009 by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.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.

On Thursday, the same day that it was announced that a Moroccan prisoner, Younous Chekkouri, had been repatriated from Guantánamo, it was also announced that Fayiz al-Kandari, the last Kuwaiti in the prison, had been approved for release by a Periodic Review Board.

The PRBs are made up of representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and they are slowly making their way through the cases of 46 men designated for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established in 2009, and 25 others initially recommended for prosecution until the legitimacy of Guantánamo’s military commissions was shredded by US judges in 2012 and 2013.

And in case you’re wondering — yes, it is unacceptable that a task force appointed by President Obama recommended 46 men for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial — on the basis that they are “too dangerous to release,” but that insufficient evidence exists to put them on trial — because that means it is not evidence, but dubious information that would not stand up to objective scrutiny — the fruits of torture or other abuse, or of the bribery or exhaustion of prisoners, who were relentlessly encouraged to rat on their fellow prisoners or to incriminate themselves. Read the rest of this entry »

14 Years After 9/11, It’s Time for Guantánamo to Be Closed

Campaigners with Witness Against Torture occupy the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. on January 11, 2014, the 12th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo (Photo: Andy Worthington).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.

14 years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it is time to take stock of what has — or hasn’t — been achieved, and what the cost has been for America’s standing in the world, how it sees itself and its values.

Unfortunately, an honest audit delivers an alarming response. As Tom Engelhardt has written in “Mantra for 9/11: Fourteen Years Later, Improbable World,” an article to mark the anniversary:

Fourteen years of wars, interventions, assassinations, torture, kidnappings, black sites, the growth of the American national security state to monumental proportions, and the spread of Islamic extremism across much of the Greater Middle East and Africa. Fourteen years of astronomical expense, bombing campaigns galore, and a military-first foreign policy of repeated defeats, disappointments, and disasters. Fourteen years of a culture of fear in America, of endless alarms and warnings, as well as dire predictions of terrorist attacks. Fourteen years of the burial of American democracy (or rather its recreation as a billionaire’s playground and a source of spectacle and entertainment but not governance). Fourteen years of the spread of secrecy, the classification of every document in sight, the fierce prosecution of whistleblowers, and a faith-based urge to keep Americans “secure” by leaving them in the dark about what their government is doing. Fourteen years of the demobilization of the citizenry. Fourteen years of the rise of the warrior corporation, the transformation of war and intelligence gathering into profit-making activities, and the flocking of countless private contractors to the Pentagon, the NSA, the CIA, and too many other parts of the national security state to keep track of. Fourteen years of our wars coming home in the form of PTSD, the militarization of the police, and the spread of war-zone technology like drones and stingrays to the “homeland.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Ignoring President Obama, the Pentagon Blocks Shaker Aamer’s Release from Guantánamo

The launch of the We Stand With Shaker campaign outside the Houses of Parliament on November 24, 2014, featuring, from L to R: Roger Waters, Clive Stafford Smith, Andy Worthington, Joanne MacInnes and Caroline Lucas.I’m just back from a fortnight’s family holiday in Turkey (in Bodrum and Dalyan, for those interested in this wonderful country, with its great hospitality, history and sights), and catching up on what I missed, with relation to Guantánamo, while I was away. My apologies if any of you were confused by my sudden disappearance. I was working so hard up until my departure that I didn’t have time to put up an “on holiday” sign here before heading off.

Those of you who are my friends on Facebook or who follow me there will know that I managed to leave a brief message there, announcing my intention to be offline for most of the two-week period — and encouraging you all to take time off from the internet and your mobile devices for the sake of your health!). While away, my Facebook friends will also know that I touched on one of the most significant Guantánamo stories to take place during my absence — the disgraceful revelation that, despite having been approved for release in 2010 by a thorough, multi-agency US government review process (the Guantánamo Review Task Force, established by President Obama shortly after taking office in January 2009), Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, is still being held because of obstruction by the Pentagon, and, moreover, that the Pentagon has specifically been blocking his release since October 2013.

The story appeared in the Guardian on August 13, following a Washington Post article three days earlier, in which, during a discussion about the Obama administration’s quest for a prison on the US mainland that could be used to hold Guantánamo prisoners, it was noted that, in a meeting last month with President Obama’s top national security officials, defense secretary Ashton Carter “indicated he was inclined to transfer Shaker ­Aamer.” By law, the defense secretary must certify that steps have been taken to mitigate any possible risk posed by released prisoners, and provide Congress with 30 days’ notice of any planned releases. Read the rest of this entry »

Does President Obama Still Have a Plan for Closing Guantánamo?

A collaged image of President Obama and a guard tower at Guantanamo.Recently, there was a brief flurry of media interest in Guantánamo after the New York Times published an article by Charlie Savage entitled, “Obama’s Plan for Guantánamo Is Seen Faltering.”

Savage noted how the Obama administration’s “fitful effort” to shut down the prison at Guantánamo “is collapsing again,” pointing out how, in his first six months as defense secretary, Ashton Carter “has yet to make a decision on any newly proposed deals to transfer individual detainees,” and claiming that, according to unnamed officials, this delay, “which echoes a pattern last year by his predecessor, Chuck Hagel,” is “generating mounting concern in the White House and State Department.” The most recent transfers out of Guantánamo — of six Yemenis resettled in Oman —  were in June, but they were part of deal negotiated under Hagel, which saw four other Yemenis rehoused in Oman in January.

Savage wrote that, in mid-July, President Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, “convened a cabinet-level ‘principals committee’ meeting on how to close the prison before the president leaves office in 18 months.” At that meeting, Carter “was presented with an unsigned National Security Council memo stating that he would have 30 days to make decisions on newly proposed transfers,” according to several officials familiar with the discussions. Read the rest of this entry »

Write to the Guantánamo Prisoners, Don’t Let Them Be Forgotten

Photos of some of the Guantanamo prisoners, made available when classified military files from Guantanamo were released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Every six months, I ask people to write to the prisoners in Guantánamo, to let them — and the US authorities — know that they have not been forgotten.

The letter-writing campaign was started five years ago by two Facebook friends, Shahrina J. Ahmed and Mahfuja Bint Ammu, and it has been repeated every six months (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here for my articles encouraging opponents of Guantánamo to write to the prisoners). Their latest campaign coincided with the start of Ramadan, on June 12, and I’m following up in the hope that, as Ramadan continues, you too can send a letter to some or all of the men to let them know they’ve not been forgotten.

See the video here of former prisoner Omar Deghayes explaining how important it is to receive cards and letters from the outside world.

Since the start of February, when — slightly belatedly — I last encouraged opponents of Guantánamo to write to the prisoners, just six men have been released. 116 men are now held — 44 cleared for release in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force established by President Obama when he took office in 2009, and eight others cleared for release in the last year and a half by a new review process, the Periodic Review Boards, which started in 2013.

In the list below, I have divided the remaining 116 prisoners into those cleared for release (52), those listed as being eligible for Periodic Review Boards (54) and those charged or tried in the military commissions system (10). Please note that I have largely kept the spelling used by the US authorities in the “Final Dispositions” of the Guantánamo Review Task Force, which was released through FOIA legislation in June 2013. Even though these names are often inaccurate, they are the names by which the men are officially known in Guantánamo  — even though, in their everyday dealings with the US authorities, they are all still referred to, not as human beings with names, but as numbers. Read the rest of this entry »

Over 90 Celebrities and MPs Sign Open Letter to President Obama Calling for Shaker Aamer’s Release from Guantánamo on US Independence Day

The launch of the We Stand With Shaker campaign outside the Houses of Parliament on November 24, 2014, featuring, from L to R: Roger Waters, Clive Stafford Smith, Andy Worthington, Joanne MacInnes and Caroline Lucas.I’m delighted to report that, today, US Independence Day (July 4), the following open letter to President Obama, calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, was published by the Guardian, on its website, which has seven million readers worldwide, and picked up on by the Daily Mail, Sky News and ITV News. Also see this Guardian article (a version of which was published in the newspaper), accompanying the publication of the letter.

I wrote the letter for the We Stand With Shaker campaign , which I founded, with the activist Joanne MacInnes, in November, and Jo has spent the last few weeks assiduously securing signatures. Celebrity supporters include Sir Patrick Stewart OBE, Ralph Fiennes, Russell Brand, Roger Waters, Peter Gabriel, Sting, Richard E. Grant, Mark Rylance, Juliet Stevenson, David Morrissey, Frankie Boyle, Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Michael Brearley.

Late yesterday afternoon, we secured the support of Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, who joined dozens of other MPs, including two former Attorney Generals, Keir Starmer and Dominic Grieve, and the six MPs who lead the cross-party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group: the co-chairs, John McDonnell (Lab.) and David Davis (Con.), and the four officers of the group: Andrew Mitchell (Con.), Jeremy Corbyn (Lab.), Caroline Lucas (Green) and Andy Slaughter (Lab.). Read the rest of this entry »

Six Months After the CIA Torture Report, We’re Still Waiting for Accountability

An excerpt from the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report into the CIA's post-9/11 torture program, showing some of the redactions.I’m sure many of us remember where we were on December 9, 2014, when, two years after it was completed, the 500-page executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s five-year, 6,700-page, $40m report into the CIA’s post-9/11 torture report was released, which I wrote about here and here.

It was a momentous occasion, for which Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and everyone who worked with her to compile the report and and to publish it (or its executive summary, at least), deserve profound thanks. In dark times, in which the US system of checks and balances has gone awry, this was a bright light in the darkness. It also caused British commentators like myself to reflect on the fact that it was something that would never happen in the UK.

That said, however, the widespread sense of horror that greeted the publication of the executive summary, with its profoundly disturbing details that were unknown before — like the “rectal feeding” of prisoners for example — has not, in the six months since, led to firm action to hold accountable those who authorized and implemented the program, which is, of course, unacceptable. As I wrote at the time in my article for Al-Jazeera: Read the rest of this entry »

Rights Groups Send An Open Letter to President Obama and Ashton Carter: Free the 57 Guantánamo Prisoners Approved for Release

A collaged image of President Obama and a guard tower at Guantanamo.Below is an open letter that has just been made available by 13 human rights organizations and lawyers’ groups calling for immediate action by President Obama and defense secretary Ashton Carter to secure the release of the 57 men still held at Guantánamo (out of the 122 men still held) who have been cleared for release — or approved for transfer, in the administration’s careful words. The signatories also call on the administration to try or release the other men, and to move towards the eventual closure of the prison, as President Obama first promised when he took office in January 2009.

The spur for the letter, which I initiated on behalf of Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker, is the second anniversary of President Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, after Congress raised legislative obstacles, which he made in a major speech on national security issues on May 23, 2013.

Also of great relevance is the arrival in Washington, D.C. today of a British Parliamentary delegation calling for the release and return to the UK of one of the 57, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison. The four MPs involved are the Conservative MPs David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, and the Labour MPs Andy Slaughter and Jeremy Corbyn, who are part of the cross-party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, and they will be meeting administration officials and Senators to try to secure a timeline for Shaker Aamer’s release. Read the rest of this entry »

Senators Leahy, Feinstein and Durbin Tell Obama to Free 57 Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners “As Quickly As Possible”

Campaigners from organizations including Witness Against Torture, Amnesty International and Close Guantanamo call for the closure of the prison outside the White House on January 11, 2011.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.

It’s now nearly five months since the last prisoners were released from Guantánamo, even though 57 of the 122 men still held have been approved for release from the prison, the majority since President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force issued its recommendations about the disposition of the remaining prisoners in January 2010.

As any decent person would agree, still holding men five years after you said you no longer wanted to hold them is a particularly offensive betrayal of any notion that you believe in justice and fairness.

President Obama released dozens of prisoners — 66 in total — from when he took office in January 2009 until September 2010, at which point restrictions on the release of prisoners, which were cynically imposed by Congress, made it more difficult. This was not because the administration was unable to release prisoners, but because the process of certifying to Congress that it was safe to do so, which were the conditions imposed by lawmakers, made the release of prisoners much more politically sensitive than it should have been. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Campaigning investigative journalist and commentator, author, filmmaker, photographer, singer-songwriter and Guantánamo expert
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