Please sign and share the petition on Change.org urging renewed action from President Obama to close Guantánamo, which now has over 200,000 signatures! Also please show your support for Shaker Aamer, if you can, by joining the protest outside Parliament from 12 noon to 3pm every weekday this week, and also next Monday and Tuesday (May 20-21), organised by the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign. Also please note that, to mark the 100th day of the hunger strike, Witness Against Torture and other activists will be handing in the Change.org petition (and other petitions) to the White House at noon on May 17, and the London Guantánamo Campaign is staging a street theatre action outside the US Embassy at 2pm on Saturday May 18 (see the Facebook page). Please also sign the international petition to the British and American governments calling for Shaker’s release.
Although the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo is still raging, and President Obama spoke eloquently last week about the need for the prison to be closed, it remains painfully true that, for the 86 prisoners (out of 166 in total), who were cleared for release by an inter-agency task force that President Obama established in 2009, there is still no easy route out.
The case of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, ought to be the easiest to resolve. One of the 86, his return has regularly been requested since August 2007 by the British government, and the legislative obstacles raised by Congress to prevent the release of prisoners to countries they regard as dangerous doesn’t apply in Shaker’s case — the UK, after all, where his wife and children live, and are all British citizens, is America’s staunchest ally in the “war on terror,” and more than capable of keeping Shaker under surveillance if that were to be requested.
In the UK, pressure has been mounting for Shaker’s release. Last month, a petition to the British government, calling for renewed action to get him released, secured the 100,000 signatures necessary to trigger a Parliamentary debate (see here and here for the transcript), and it is to be hoped that a full Parliamentary debate will follow later this month or in June. Read the rest of this entry »
Three weeks ago, as part of my ongoing coverage of the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, which is now in its fourth month, I published an account by Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, with one of the men that Reprieve’s lawyers represent in Guantánamo — Younus Chekhouri (also identified as Younous Chekkouri), a Moroccan, a Sufi Muslim, and one of the 86 prisoners cleared for release from Guantánamo as a result of the deliberations of a task force appointed by President Obama in 2009.
As I explained at the time, Younus’s story “has long fascinated me, as he has always been one of the most peaceful prisoners in Guantánamo, and has always categorically refuted all the allegations against him that relate to terrorism and military activity.” I also explained how “I found his testimony from Guantánamo, in the tribunals and review boards that took place under President Bush, to be both compelling and credible.”
Below is the description of him that I included in a series of articles about the remaining prisoners in Guantánamo back in 2010, which I posted previously but am posting again because it explains who he is, rather than who the US authorities thought he was:
Chekhouri is accused of being a founder member of the Moroccan Islamic Fighting Group (or GICM, the Groupe Islamique Combattant Marocain), who had a training camp near Kabul, but he has always maintained that he traveled to Afghanistan in 2001, with his Algerian wife, after six years in Pakistan, where he had first traveled in search of work and education, and has stated that they lived on the outskirts of Kabul, working for a charity that ran a guest house and helped young Moroccan immigrants, and had no involvement whatsoever in the country’s conflicts. He has also repeatedly explained that he was profoundly disillusioned by the fighting amongst Muslims that has plagued Afghanistan’s recent history, and he has also expressed his implacable opposition to the havoc wreaked on the country by Osama bin Laden, describing him as “a crazy person,” and adding that “what he does is bad for Islam.” Read the rest of this entry »
As the prison-wide hunger strike continues at Guantánamo, and even the authorities are admitting that 84 of the remaining 166 prisoners are on hunger strike (edging ever closer to the figure of 130 cited by the prisoners themselves), it remains imperative that those of us who are committed to the closure of the prison continue to publicize the hunger strike, and to maintain pressure on the administration to resolve it — by releasing the 86 prisoners cleared for release, and by initiating objective reviews of 46 others designated for indefinite detention without charge or trial in a executive order issued by President Obama two years ago.
To maintain pressure on the Obama administration, it is crucial that the prisoners’ stories are told, as has been happening over the last few weeks with reports following phone conversations between the prisoners and their lawyers — in the cases of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (see here and here), and also with Samir Moqbel, whose testimony was presented as an op-ed in the New York Times.
These men are all represented by lawyers at Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity founded by Clive Stafford Smith, and below I’m posting Clive’s account of his conversation by phone with another of Reprieve’s client, Younus Chekhouri (also identified as Younous Chekkouri), a Moroccan whose story has long fascinated me, as he has always been one of the most peaceful prisoners in Guantánamo, and has always categorically refuted all the allegations against him that relate to terrorism and military activity. Read the rest of this entry »
Please write urgent emails calling for the return of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo to foreign secretary William Hague and to Alistair Burt, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Supporters are also encouraged to sign the international petition for Shaker on the Care 2 Petition Site.
Last Friday was a great day for campaigning in the UK, as the hard work of numerous activists resulted in success for an e-petition to the British government that was launched a year ago. The petition, which called on the British government to “undertake urgent new initiatives to achieve the immediate transfer of Shaker Aamer to the UK from continuing indefinite detention in Guantánamo Bay,” secured 100,000 signatures, making it eligible for a Parliamentary debate. Shaker is the last British resident still held in Guantánamo, and has been held for over 11 years, while his family waits patiently for his return in south London.
On the e-petition (which currently has over 110,000 signatures, and can be signed until April 20), the government department dealing with it notes, “As this e-petition has received more than 100 000 signatures, on 15 April 2013 the Leader of the House of Commons passed this petition to the House of Commons Backbench Business Committee to consider for debate.” Further information about the Committee, including how they handle e-petitions, can be found here.
It is to be hoped that the government will not try to worm their way out of discussing Shaker’s case in Parliament, as it is intolerable that he has not yet been returned to his family, given that he was cleared for release under President Bush in 2007, and again under President Obama in 2009. Read the rest of this entry »
With the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo now in its third month, it is encouraging that so much of the mainstream media is paying close attention to the story, maintaining pressure on the Obama administration to do something about it — most obviously by securing the release of the 86 men (out of 166 in total), who were cleared for release by an inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established when he took office in 2009, just after he had issued his executive order promising to close the prison within a year.
Despite that promise, the men have actually been abandoned by all three branches of the US government. President Obama bears huge responsibility, for having imposed a blanket ban, three years ago, on releasing any cleared Yemenis, in the wake of a failed bomb plot that originated in Yemen, and Congress has also imposed almost insurmountable restrictions on the release of prisoners.
The hunger strike seems to have pricked the conscience of the mainstream media, who, for the most part, had lost interest in Guantánamo and the men abandoned by President Obama and used as pawns in a cynical political game by Congress, and I’m relieved that this is the case, because I believe that only sustained pressure — both domestic and international — can persuade President Obama and lawmakers to wake up to the horrors of their indifference and their cynicism. Read the rest of this entry »
As part of my coverage of the huge, ongoing hunger strike at Guantánamo, I’m delighted to make available the full text of a statement (actually an affidavit) made by Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, based on a phone conversation that Clive had on March 29 with Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, whose story has been a focus of my work for many years. See here, here and here for reports made available to me by Shaker last year, and see here for an e-petition to the British government calling for renewed action to secure Shaker’s release — and here for an international petition.
As I have been reporting for many weeks (see here, here, here, here and here), the hunger strike began two months ago, in response to the renewed ill-treatment of the prisoners and their despair at ever being released, after President Obama promised to close the prison and then failed to do so, even though 86 of the remaining 166 prisoners — including Shaker — were cleared for release, at least three years ago, by an inter-agency task force that the President established shortly after taking office in 2009.
Shaker’s testimony, via Clive (and available here via Reprieve), adds important, and disturbing new information about the hunger strike, and the behavior of the authorities, as well as providing numbers — Shaker told Clive that there are “130 prisoners total on hunger strike in the whole prison,” and that, “Of the 66 prisoners in Camp V, 45 are recognized as being on strike, though more actually are doing it.” Read the rest of this entry »
Today, February 14, 2013, is the 11th anniversary of the day that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who has a British wife and four British children, arrived at the Bush administration’s experimental “war on terror” prison from Afghanistan, where he had travelled with his family to engage in humanitarian aid. After the 9/11 attacks, however, having managed to get his family to safety, he was captured and sold to US forces by bounty hunters. Ironically, Shaker’s arrival at Guantánamo on February 14, 2002 was also the day that his youngest son was born.
To mark this dreadful anniversary, six years — six whole years! — since Shaker was first told that he would be going home to his family, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign organised a protest outside Parliament yesterday, attended by activists and campaigners — myself included — and also by MPs: Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion), Sadiq Khan (Labour, Tooting), John O’Donnell (Labour, Hayes and Harlington) and Shaker’s constituency MP, Jane Ellison (Conservative, Battersea).
We were all there to ask why it is that Shaker is still held, when he was not only cleared for release in 2007, under the Bush administration, but was also cleared for release again in 2009, under the Obama administration, a fact that was only made public in September, when the Justice Department publicly released a list containing the names of 55 cleared prisoners, of which he was one. Read the rest of this entry »
Please sign the e-petition to the British government calling for the return of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo.
On Wednesday February 13, between 11am and 1.30pm, I’ll be joining representatives of the Save Shaker Campaign and the London Guantánamo Campaign in Parliament Square, opposite the Houses of Parliament, to call for the release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, on the 11th anniversary of the day that, in 2002, he was flown to Guantánamo from Afghanistan, arriving on February 14, the day that his youngest son was born.
Shaker, who is now 44 years old, and has spent a quarter of his life in Guantánamo, is “suffering from a list of ailments, including arthritis and serious asthma problems,” as the legal action charity Reprieve explained last month, prompting “grave fears for his health.” One of his lawyers, Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal action charity, recently returned from visiting Shaker in Guantánamo. According to unclassified notes of their meeting, Shaker told him, “The ERF team grab me harshly, bend my arms and my head and slam me to the floor. They shackle me and put me in the chair.”
Clive Stafford Smith said: “The US gulag Guantánamo Bay is a disgrace where men are abused, and where any notion of human rights or the rule of law is flagrantly disregarded. In the US films which purport to justify torture [Zero Dark Thirty] are being nominated for awards, those who did the torturing enjoying immunity and the courageous people who expose wrongdoing are prosecuted for violating secrecy. Those who continue to be subjected to abuse and indefinite detention are all but forgotten.” Read the rest of this entry »
I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 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.
As we approach the 11th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, those of us calling for the prison’s closure, as President Obama promised on his second day in office nearly four years ago, are still waiting for a sign that, in his second and final term, the President will revisit that promise and, first of all, address the disgraceful and unacceptable fact that, of the 166 prisoners still held, 86 were approved for transfer out of the prison by the Guantánamo Review Task Force that he established soon after taking office in 2009.
One of these men, and the one who, we believe, ought to be the first to be freed, is Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who is one of the 86 cleared prisoners — and was one of 55 cleared prisoners named in an important document released by the Justice Department in September, which, for the first time ever, identified these men publicly. Read the rest of this entry »
On Friday (October 5), I’m heading to Sheffield, in the company of my friend — and former Guantánamo prisoner — Omar Deghayes, to take part in a conference at Sheffield University, entitled, “Confronting US Power after the Vietnam War: Transnational and International Perspectives on Peace Movements, Diplomacy, and the Law, 1975-2012.” The conference, which concludes on Saturday, is sponsored by the university’s Centre for Peace History, and the Peace History Society, and was organised by Michael Foley, co-director of the Centre for Peace History and an organiser for the campaigning group Witness Against Torture, who I join in Washington D.C. every January 11 to protest about the continued existence of Guantánamo on the anniversary of its opening (on January 11, 2002).
The panel Omar and I are taking part in on Friday evening — the conference’s keynote event — is entitled, “Resisting Empire: Global Resistance to Guantánamo and Torture,” and it begins at 6:30pm in the Richard Roberts Building Auditorium, in the east wing of the Dainton Building, on Brook Hill (postcode S3 7HF).
Joining us will be Jeremy Varon, Associate Professor of History at the New School for Social Research in New York, who is also a member of Witness Against Torture. Also speaking is Katie Taylor of the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, for whom I used to work, whose presentation will mainly be focused on the challenges of resettlement and the work of Reprieve’s Life after Guantánamo Project. Omar will be talking about his experiences, and his work with the Guantánamo Justice Centre, and, as a representative of the campaigning group Close Guantánamo, I will be talking about the fundamental problems with the supposed evidence against the prisoners, and the injustice of the US continuing to hold 86 prisoners (out of the remaining 166) who have been cleared for release as a result of multiple review processes, some as long ago as 2004. Read the rest of this entry »
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