On Wednesday, I was outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. for the annual protest against the continued existence of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, with representatives from rights groups including Witness Against Torture, Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, plus some powerful spoken word pieces by The Peace Poets.
I spoke about the double disappointment of this depressing anniversary, with Obama just days away from failing to fulfill the promise to close Guantánamo that he made on his second day in office nearly eight years ago, and Donald Trump about to take the prison over with his wild promises to “load it up with some bad dudes,” and I urged those gathered to make it a priority, from Day One of the Trump presidency, to demand that Trump frees those men still held who have been approved for release (19 at present, although we are told that between 13 and 15 will be freed by Obama in his last week), and also to demand that he continues with the latest review process, the Periodic Review Boards, for which 26 of the remaining 55 prisoners continue to be eligible.
The PRBs, which function like parole boards, have reviewed the cases of 64 men in the last three years, and 38 have been approved for release. The 26 other men had their ongoing imprisonment upheld, but their cases are regularly reviewed, and some of them will almost certainly also be approved for release — unless Trump repeals Obama’s 2011 executive order establishing the PRBs. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and a typically busy day for me. My seventh annual visit to Washington, D.C. to call for the closure of Guantánamo on the anniversary began with a protest outside the Supreme Court with representatives from rights groups including Witness Against Torture, Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. As usual, there were speakers from all the groups involved, plus some powerful spoken word pieces by The Peace Poets, and video of my talk will hopefully be available soon.
The day continued with a panel discussion, Guantánamo Bay: Year 15, at New America, with my friend and colleague Tom Wilner, counsel of record to the Guantánamo prisoners in their Supreme Court cases in 2004 and 2008, with whom I co-founded the Close Guantánamo campaign five years ago, Jim Moran, former congressional representative for Virginia’s 8th district and a longtime opponent of Guantánamo, and Rosa Brooks, a Senior ASU Future of War Fellow at New America who also served in the Obama administration. The moderator was Peter Bergen, the Vice President of New America and the Director of the International Security Program.
I’m pleased to report that the panel discussion was streamed live, and that a video is available on YouTube. It’s cross-posted below and I do hope you have time to watch it, and to share it if you find it useful. Read the rest of this entry »
Regular readers will know that I have had a long involvement in the case of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who was finally freed in October 2015 after a long campaign to secure his release, which involved MPs, the mainstream British media, and protest groups including We Stand With Shaker, the organization I co-founded in November 2014 with the activist Joanne MacInnes, which used a giant inflatable figure of Shaker to highlight his cause, with some quite spectacular success in the media, and with celebrities and MPs.
Since his release, I have maintained contact with Shaker, and, in October, was delighted when he agreed to make a short video for the Close Guantánamo campaign — another organization I co-founded — which is posted below.
Apart from a flurry of activity immediately after his release, Shaker has had little involvement with the media this year, although his words always have resonance, so I was delighted to see, a few days ago, that he had spoken to Al-Jazeera. Read the rest of this entry »
I’m delighted to report that yesterday, while I was crossing the Atlantic by plane and was offline, the New York Daily News published “Teaching Trump About Gitmo,” an op-ed that I wrote with my friend and colleague Tom Wilner, the US attorney with whom I co-founded the Close Guantánamo campaign exactly five years ago.
The op-ed was a response to the president elect’s recent — and disgraceful — tweet, in which he stated, “There should be no further releases from Gitmo. These are extremely dangerous people and should not be allowed back onto the battlefield.”
In the hope of educating Mr. Trump, Tom and I pointed out that, of the 55 men still held, 19 have been approved for release by two inter-agency review processes — 2009’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, and the current Periodic Review Boards — which are “made up of our nation’s top security, defense and justice officials,” and just ten are facing — or have faced — trials, leaving 26 others whose cases should continue to be reviewed by the Periodic Review Boards, as it seems certain that some of them will also end up being approved for release, like 38 of the 64 men originally whose cases have been reviewed by the PRBs in the last three years. Read the rest of this entry »
Dear friends and supporters,
I’m delighted to be writing to you from Heathrow Airport — despite a seriously disruptive Tube strike in London — awaiting a flight to New York City, for what will be my seventh annual visit at this time of year, to campaign for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on and around the anniversary of its opening, on Jan. 11.
I’m not delighted to have to keep calling for Guantánamo’s closure, of course, and this year, the 15th anniversary of the prison’s opening is a particular difficult occasion: simultaneously, a definitive black mark against President Obama for having failed to fulfill the promise to close the prison — within a year! — that he made when he first took office eight years ago, and the introduction to Guantánamo under a third president, the worryingly unpredictable Donald Trump, who has vowed to keep Guantánamo open, and to “load it up with bad dudes,” and who, just days ago, tweeted that there should be no more releases from Guantánamo.
Trump’s comments came in spite of the fact that 19 of the 55 men still held have been approved for release by high-level, inter-agency review processes, and others may well be approved for release in future by the latest review process, the Periodic Review Boards, unless he decides, unwisely, to scrap them.
I will be talking about these topics, and reflecting on Guantánamo’s history, what it means, who is held, and why the closure of the prison remains so essential, during my visit. Read the rest of this entry »
Excellent news from Guantánamo yesterday, as Charlie Savage, in the New York Times, confirmed what those of us seeking the prison’s closure had hoped — that the majority of the 22 men approved for release (out of the 59 men still held) will be freed before President Obama leaves office.
Because of requirements put in place over many years by a hostile Congress, the Pentagon must notify Congress 30 days before a release — a “transfer” — is to take place, and the deadline for securing releases before Obama leaves office was therefore this Monday, December 19. By late in the day, officials told the Times, the administration had secured homes for 17 or 18 of the remaining prisoners, who, crucially, will be sent to Italy, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The Gulf countries have all taken prisoners in the last two years — almost all of them Yemenis, for whom third countries had to be found because the entire US establishment is unwilling to repatriate Yemenis based on fears about the security situation in their homeland. Four were sent to Oman in January 2015, another six in June 2015, and five were sent to the UAE in November 2015. Another ten were sent to Oman in January 2016, and another 12 were sent to the UAE in August 2016 (with three Afghans, whose repatriation had been prohibited by Congress, based on fears about them ending up taking up arms against US forces). In addition, another nine Yemenis were sent to Saudi Arabia in April 2016. Read the rest of this entry »
Attentive Guantánamo-watchers will recall that, in September, the first round of Periodic Review Boards was completed at Guantánamo, for prisoners assessed as being “too dangerous to release,” or as eligible for prosecution by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama set up shortly after taking office for the first time in January 2009. For full details, see my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website.
On both fronts, the decisions taken about these men back in 2009 were dubious. For those deemed “too dangerous to release,” the task force acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, rather undermining the credibility of their assessment, because, if information cannot be produced at a trial, it is fundamentally unreliable and does not rise to the level of evidence — and with Guantánamo, of course, torture and abuse run through everything, distorting all manner of claims regarding the credibility of the US authorities’ information about the prisoners.
41 men put forward for the PRBs were regarded as “too dangerous to release,” while 23 others had been recommended for prosecution, until the basis for prosecutions at Guantánamo — in the much-criticized military commission system, dragged unwisely from the history books after 9/11 — largely collapsed as a result of a number of appeals court rulings, which overturned some of the few convictions secured in the commissions, on the basis that the war crimes for which the men in question had been convicted were not internationally recognized, and had, in fact, been invented by Congress. Read the rest of this entry »
I hope you have time to read Obama v Trump on Guantánamo and torture, my latest article for Al-Jazeera, and to share it if you find it informative.
Al-Jazeera asked me to compare and contrast the president and the president-elect in relation to Guantánamo, giving me an opportunity to run through the history of President Obama’s failures to close the prison, as he promised when he first took office in January 2009. I also briefly discussed Obama’s position on torture, and compared and contrasted Donald Trump’s views.
President Obama has repeatedly blamed Congress for his failure to close the prison, but in fact he had control of Congress in his first two years in office, but failed to capitalise on it, and later, although Congress raised considerable obstacles to his efforts to close the prison, he refused to use a waiver that existed in the legislation allowing him to bypass Congress, and he also refused, at any point, to make the closure of the prison a priority to the extent that he was prepared to properly challenge Congress and work with supportive lawmakers to find a way to get Guantánamo closed. Read the rest of this entry »
Twice a year, since 2010, I’ve asked those who oppose the ongoing existence of Guantánamo to write to the prisoners still held there, to let them — and the US authorities — know that they have not been forgotten. For the last letter-writing campaign, in March, I expressed my hope that President Obama might fulfill the promise he made on his second day in office in January 2009, to close the prison for good, but that has not happened, of course, and now the specter of Donald Trump hovers over the wretched facility, with his promises to keep it open, and to send new prisoners there.
Whether the prisoners are worried is unclear. Eight years ago, they cheered President Obama’s victory, thinking that it meant Guantánamo would soon be closed, but eight years later many of them are still held, and presumably have every reason to believe that there is little to hope for. The day after the election, the Miami Herald reported that Army Lt. Col. John Parks, the spokesman for the prison, said that “[m]any detainees did stay up and watch the election results,” although they showed no reaction that he could discern. However, on December 1, on “CBS This Morning,” Margaret Brennan spoke to David Remes, the attorney for the Pakistani prisoner Saifullah Paracha, who “said that many detainees thought that it was the end of the world and felt terrible [and] asked for tranquilizers, sleeping pills, because they were so distraught.”
The letter-writing campaign was started six and a half years ago by two Facebook friends, Shahrina and Mahfuja Ahmed, and, as I mentioned above, it has been repeated every six months, more or less (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here for my other articles encouraging people to write to the prisoners). Read the rest of this entry »
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.
On Tuesday, at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, the home of US Special Operations Command and Central Command, President Obama made what is expected to be his final speech on counter-terrorism before he leaves office in just six weeks’ time.
As Jessica Schulberg noted for the Huffington Post, in his speech he “defended his legacy ― both from hawks who have accused him of withdrawing from the Middle East, and from liberals who have criticized his reliance on expansive surveillance and drones to fight wars,” and “sought to convince the country that he had struck the correct balance.”
Spying and drones
However, as Spencer Ackerman noted for the Guardian, this was “a highly selective account of his record, particularly about the mass surveillance architecture he embraced and the drone strikes that will be synonymous with his name.” Read the rest of this entry »
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.
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