The UK’s Unacceptable Obsession with Stripping British Citizens of Their UK Nationality

In January, Theresa May, the British Home Secretary, secured cross-party support for an alarming last-minute addition to the current Immigration Bill, allowing her to strip foreign-born British citizens of their citizenship, even if it leaves them stateless.

The timing appeared profoundly cynical. May already has the power to strip dual nationals of their citizenship, as a result of legislation passed in 2002 “enabling the Home Secretary to remove the citizenship of any dual nationals who [have] done something ‘seriously prejudicial’ to the UK,” as the Bureau of Investigative Journalism described it in February 2013, but “the power had rarely been used before the current government.”

In December, the Bureau, which has undertaken admirable investigation into the Tory-led mission to strip people of their citizenship, further clarified the situation, pointing out that the existing powers are part of the British Nationality Act, and allow the Home Secretary to “terminate the British citizenship of dual-nationality individuals if she believes their presence in the UK is ‘not conducive to the public good’, or if they have obtained their citizenship through fraud.” The Bureau added, “Deprivation of citizenship orders can be made with no judicial approval in advance, and take immediate effect — the only route for people to argue their case is through legal appeals. In all but two known cases, the orders have been issued while the individual is overseas, leaving them stranded abroad during legal appeals that can take years” — and also, of course, raising serious questions about who is supposedly responsible for them when their British citizenship is removed. Read the rest of this entry »

Nine Years of Hunger Strikes and Force-Feeding at Guantánamo: A Declaration in Support of Emad Hassan by Clive Stafford Smith

Emad Hassan, in a photograph included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.Last week, I wrote an article, “Guantánamo Prisoner Force-Fed Since 2007 Launches Historic Legal Challenge,” about Emad Hassan, a Yemeni prisoner who is challenging the US authorities’ self-declared right to force-feed him, following a ruling in February by the appeals court in Washington D.C., allowing legal challenges to go ahead and reversing rulings made by lower court judges last summer, who believed that their hands were tied by Bush-era legislation preventing any legal challenges to the running of Guantánamo.

Emad Hassan is one of the most persistent hunger strikers at Guantánamo, and has been on a permanent hunger strike — which has also involved him being force-fed — since 2007. The irony is that, throughout most of this whole period he could have been a free man, as he — along with 74 other men, out of the 154 still held — was cleared for release from Guantánamo by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama appointed shortly after taking office in January 2009.

That he is held at all is a disgrace, but Yemenis make up 55 of the 75 cleared prisoners, and are held because of concerns about the security situation in their homeland. This is bad enough, given that this is a form of “guilt by nationality” that makes a mockery of establishing a task force review process that is supposed to lead to the release of prisoners, but when it also transpires that some of these men — like Emad — are being force-fed instead of being freed, we are in a place of such dark and surreal injustice that it appears to have no parallel. Read the rest of this entry »

Long-Cleared Algerian Prisoner Ahmed Belbacha Released from Guantánamo

I’m delighted to report that Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian prisoner, has been released from Guantánamo. It’s always good news when a prisoner is released, and in Ahmed Belbacha’s case it is particularly reassuring, as I — and many other people around the world — have been following his case closely for many years. I first wrote about him in 2006, for my book The Guantánamo Files, and my first article mentioning him was back in June 2007. I have written about his case, and called for his release, on many occasions since.

Ahmed was cleared for release from Guantánamo twice — by a military review board under the Bush administration in February 2007, and by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, appointed by the president shortly after taking office in 2009.

Nevertheless, he was terrified of returning home, and, from 2007 onwards, tried to prevent his forced repatriation in the US courts. This seems to have annoyed the authorities in Algeria, as, in 2009, he was tried and sentenced in absentia, receiving a 20-year sentence for membership of a foreign terrorist group abroad. As his lawyers at Reprieve noted, despite repeated requests, no evidence was produced to support the conviction. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Prisoner Force-Fed Since 2007 Launches Historic Legal Challenge

Emad Hassan, in a photograph included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in April 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.

Last month, the court of appeals in Washington D.C. (the D.C. Circuit Court) delivered an important ruling regarding Guantánamo prisoners’ right to challenge their force-feeding, and, more generally, other aspects of their detention. The force-feeding is the authorities’ response to prisoners undertaking long-term hunger strikes — or, as Jason Leopold discovered on March 11 through a FOIA request, what is now being referred to by the authorities as “long-term non-religious fasts.”

The court overturned rulings in the District Court last summer, in which two judges — one reluctantly, one less so — turned down the prisoners’ request for them to stop their force-feeding because of a precedent relating to Guantánamo, dating back to 2009.

As Dorothy J. Samuels  explained in a column in the New York Times on March 11, revisiting that ruling: Read the rest of this entry »

A Love Letter from Guantánamo

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner, where it was published as “Younus Chekhouri’s Love Letter to His Wife from Guantánamo.” 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.

Younus Chekhouri (also identified as Younous Chekkouri), who will be 46 in May, is one of the last two Moroccan prisoners in Guantánamo, and his story has fascinated me ever since I began researching the prisoners’ stories for my book The Guantánamo Files back in 2006.

In Guantánamo, Younus has always maintained that, in the mid-1990s, he traveled to Pakistan with his Algerian wife Abla, in search of work and education, and then spent time in Yemen and Syria. In 2001, the couple moved to Afghanistan, where they lived on the outskirts of Kabul, working for a charity that ran a guest house and helped young Moroccan immigrants. After the 9/11 attacks and the US-led invasion, Younus sent Abla to safety in Pakistan, but was himself captured and sold to US forces.

In contrast to Younus’s own account, the US authorities accused him of running a military training camp near Kabul, even though he has repeatedly explained that he was profoundly disillusioned by the fighting amongst Muslims that has plagued Afghanistan’s recent history. The US authorities also described him as a “close associate” of Osama bin Laden, but he has repeatedly expressed his implacable opposition to the havoc wreaked on the country by bin Laden, describing him as “a crazy person,” and adding that “what he does is bad for Islam.” Read the rest of this entry »

Photos of the Shaker Aamer Protest in London on February 14, and His Latest Words from Guantánamo

A protest organized by the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign outside MI6 headquarters on February 14, 2014, the 12th anniversary of the arrival at Guantanmao of Shaker Aamer, the ast British resident in the prison (Photo: Andy Worthington).On February 14, 2014, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign held a protest outside MI6 headquarters on Albert Embankment in London. The photo to the left here is part of a set of photos I took on the day. See the full set on Flickr here.

The protest was called to mark the 12th anniversary of Shaker Aamer‘s arrival at Guantánamo, and the 12th birthday of his youngest child, who, of course, he has never seen. Shaker is the last British resident in Guantánamo, who has a British wife and four British children, and had been given indefinite leave to remain in the UK prior to travelling to Afghanistan with his family, to undertake humanitarian aid, in 2001, shortly before the 9/11 attacks and the US-led invasion that led to his capture by bounty hunters, who then sold him to the US military.

Crucially, he was cleared for release by a military review board under the Bush administration in 2007, and again in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009. His continued imprisonment is, therefore, completely unacceptable and unjustifiable, and it reflects very badly on both the US and UK governments — the former for not having released him to be reunited with his family, which should be a straightforward matter, and the latter for not having made his release and return to the UK an absolute priority. Read the rest of this entry »

The Guantánamo Experiment: A Harrowing Letter by Yemeni Prisoner Emad Hassan

Emad Hassan, in a photograph included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.155 men are still held at Guantánamo, and yet, despite the fact that most of these prisoners have been held for 12 years without charge or trial, many of them are completely unknown to the general public.

A case in point is Emad Hassan, a Yemeni prisoner whose representation has recently been taken on by Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity whose founder and director is Clive Stafford Smith. Reprieve recently received a letter from  Emad, after it was unclassified by the Pentagon censorship board that evaluates all correspondence between prisoners and their lawyers — and the hand-written notes of any meetings that take place — and decides whether it can be made available to the public.

When the cleared letter was released, Reprieve secured publication of it in the Middle East Monitor, where it was published to mark the 12th opening of the prison on January 11. In the hope of securing a wider audience for Emad’s words, I’m cross-posting it below, not only to let people know about Emad’s particular story — to humanize another of the men so cynically dismissed as “the worst of the worst” by the Bush administration — but also because of his detailed description of how hunger strikers at Guantánamo are being abused by the authorities. Read the rest of this entry »

US Appeals Court Rules that Guantánamo Prisoners Can Challenge Force-Feeding, and Their Conditions of Detention

In the latest news from Guantánamo, the court of appeals in Washington D.C. ruled yesterday that hunger-striking prisoners can challenge their force-feeding in a federal court — and, more generally, ruled that judges have “the power to oversee complaints” by prisoners “about the conditions of their confinement,” as the New York Times described it, further explaining that the judges ruled that “courts may oversee conditions at the prison as part of a habeas corpus lawsuit,” and adding that the ruling “was a defeat for the Obama administration and may open the door to new lawsuits by the remaining 155 Guantánamo inmates.”

In summer, four prisoners, all cleared for release since at least January 2010 — Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian and Nabil Hadjarab, another Algerian, who was later releasedasked federal court judges to stop the government from force-feeding them, but the judges ruled (see here and here) that an existing precedent relating to Guantánamo prevented them from intervening. The prisoners then appealed, and reports at the time of the hearing in the D.C. Circuit Court indicated that the judges appeared to be inclined to look favorably on the prisoners’ complaints.

As was explained in a press release by Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers represent the men involved in the appeal, along with Jon B. Eisenberg in California, the D.C. Circuit Court “held that the detainees should be allowed a ‘meaningful opportunity’ back in District Court to show that the Guantánamo force-feeding was illegal.” They also “invited the detainees to challenge other aspects of the protocol.” Read the rest of this entry »

Clive Stafford Smith on Guantánamo: “You Are Cleared to Leave, But You Cannot Go”

On Friday, a powerful op-ed appeared on CNN’s website, entitled, “Mr. President, what should I tell cleared prisoners in Guantánamo?” It was written by someone who has been meeting prisoners at Guantánamo, as a civilian lawyer, for nearly ten years, and has been meeting prisoners who have been told that the US no longer wants to hold them — that they have been cleared for release — for up to seven years.

The author of the op-ed is Clive Stafford Smith, the founder and director of Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers represent 14 of the 155 men still held at Guantánamo, including one man, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who was told in 2007 that the US no longer wanted to hold him. Soon after he was told this, another British resident was freed, with three more following in December 2007. The last to be freed was Binyam Mohamed, in February 2009, but for Shaker his long and pointless imprisonment seems to be unending.

This is in spite of the fact that President Obama established a high-level, inter-agency task force to review the cases of all the men held shortly after he took office in January 2009, and, a year later, the task force issued a report containing their recommendations: who to release, who to prosecute, and — most dubiously — who to continue holding 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 »

Shaker Aamer Reports 33 Guantánamo Prisoners on Hunger Strike, Issues Statement on Prison’s 12th Anniversary

A month ago, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who was cleared for release under President Bush and President Obama, reported that prisoners — himself included — had resumed the hunger strike that raged from February to August last year, and, at its peak, involved up to 130 of the remaining prisoners. As the Observer described it, in a phone call with Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, the legal action charity whose lawyers represent 15 men still at Guantánamo, Shaker “revealed there [were] 29 Guantánamo hunger strikers, including him, of whom 19 [were] being force-fed.”

That number has now increased. In its latest press release, Reprieve used testimony by the prisoners to “reveal that 33 men detained in Guantánamo are on hunger strike, with 16 being force fed.” When the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo announced at the start of last month that they were no longer going to state how many prisoners were on hunger strike, because they did not want to “further their protests,” just 15 of the prisoners were refusing food, all of whom were being force-fed.

Reprieve also revealed that the authorities at Guantánamo are punishing hunger strikers by sending them to Camp V Echo, described as “the strictest of the camps.” One prisoner represented by Reprieve’s lawyers said, “My cell in the dreadful Camp V Echo is constructed in a strange manner. It is designed to torture the person who is held there. All the surfaces made of steel. The bed is steel. The walls are steel. The floor is steel. The ceiling is steel. There is no toilet, but the hole in the ground is made of steel.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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