Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of meeting Yemi Hailemariam, the partner of Andy Tsege (Andargachew Tsege), a prominent opponent of the Ethiopian government, who, as I explained when Yemi subsequently stood for a photo for the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, “was kidnapped” in Yemen “and rendered to Ethiopia on the command of the Ethiopian government” in June 2014, as his lawyers at Reprieve explained, adding that he was “held in secret detention and in solitary confinement for over a year, without access to any form of due process. He has been paraded on Ethiopian TV looking ill and gaunt. He was given an in absentia death sentence in 2009. He could be executed at any time.” Andy is pictured above, with Yemi and their three children.
I noted the above when I posted Yemi’s photo, back in May, at a time when the British government, with Phillip Hammond as foreign secretary, had refused to act decisively on Andy’s behalf. Since then, of course, David Cameron has resigned following the EU referendum debacle, Theresa May has become our new and unelected Prime Minister, and Hammond has become home secretary, with May surprising everyone by appointing Boris Johnson as foreign secretary, a man with a history of racist comments about countries and people he is now supposed to be presenting himself to as a responsible and statesman-like figure.
No one who has seen the footage of John Kerry wincing as Johnson was grilled by journalists at one of his first outings as foreign secretary (a joint US-UK press conference) can be in any doubt that Johnson is ill-suited to the role, but he is now responsible for Britain’s position with regard to Andy Tsege, and answerable to the more than 130,000 people who have signed a 38 Degrees petition calling for Andy to be freed.
To take action for Andy, please email your MP via Reprieve’s website, and ask them to please put pressure on Boris Johnson to act.
On October 18, his lawyers at Reprieve, and four other organisations — Article 19, the Ethiopia Human Rights Project, Fair Trials International and Redress — sent the following letter to Boris Johnson in response to an open letter by the foreign secretary on August 26. Full of inadequate responses to the lawyers’ demands, this letter and its failings are dissected by Reprieve here, in an article entitled, “7 reasons why Boris Johnson is wrong not to call for British father’s release from Ethiopian death row.”
The NGOs’ letter also came about in response to Johnson’s failure to answer questions about Andy’s situation in Parliament. As Reprieve described it in a press release, “The letter comes after Mr. Johnson was accused on Tuesday of evading questions on the issue in the House of Commons. Asked by MPs why he had not yet called for Mr. Tsege’s release, the Foreign Secretary failed to respond, saying that ‘ongoing legal action’ prevented him from doing so. Mr. Johnson appeared to be referring to an application for judicial review brought by Mr. Tsege’s family which concluded last month, with no appeal sought.” However, “[e]arlier this year, former Prime Minister David Cameron answered questions in Parliament on the case some weeks after the legal case was initiated.”
Reprieve’s press release also noted that, “In June this year, the Ethiopian government promised the former Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, that Mr. Tsege would be given ‘legal access’ – however, to date, Mr. Tsege has yet to be allowed to contact a lawyer.”
Ethiopian courts have been used in recent years to imprison and sentence to death political dissidents, protestors, journalists and bloggers. The Ethiopian authorities have previously told Foreign Office officials that Mr. Tsege is unable to appeal his death sentence. Today’s letter from the human rights organizations warns that Mr. Tsege faces little prospect of due process in Ethiopia.
Mr. Tsege’s family in London are unable to contact him. This week, there were concerns that the British government’s limited consular access to him could be under threat, after Ethiopia announced a ‘state of emergency’ that reportedly includes restrictions on the movement of diplomats in the country.
Just yesterday, AFP reported that the Ethiopian authorities “have arrested more than 1,500 people since declaring a state of emergency less than two weeks ago, according to a statement published by state-controlled news agency Fana.”
Maya Foa, one of Reprieve’s directors, said, “Andy Tsege’s ordeal at the hands of the Ethiopian government is nothing short of an outrage. His family in London are desperately worried about him, and MPs are rightly asking why Boris Johnson won’t request his return. It’s appalling that the Foreign Secretary is unwilling to explain himself to Parliament. As we’ve written to Mr. Johnson, the Ethiopian government has shown zero interest in delivering on its weak promises on Andy’s case – and the current crackdown is yet more evidence that Ethiopia’s ruling party has little mercy for its critics. Boris Johnson must start listening to our concerns, and urgently request Andy’s return to Britain.”
Below is the letter the NGOs wrote to Boris Johnson calling for him to act on Andy’s behalf without further delay:
The Rt Honourable Boris Johnson MP
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
King Charles Street
London SW1A 2AH
TO: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
Urgent request that the UK reconsider its refusal to call for Andy Tsege’s release
Dear Secretary of State,
Our organisations are writing in response to your recent open letter on the case of British father-of-three Andy Tsege. [i]
At time of writing Mr. Tsege has been illegally held on Ethiopia’s death row for more than two years under a death sentence imposed upon him in absentia, having been kidnapped in an international airport in June 2014 and rendered to a prison widely referred to as “Ethiopia’s gulag”. [ii]
We urge you to reconsider your refusal to call for Ethiopia to return Mr. Tsege to his home in the UK and your decision instead to limit your efforts in the case to asking that he be allowed to see a lawyer. We believe this approach is misplaced and potentially counter-productive. Mr .Tsege is, after all, not a criminal, but himself a victim of crime.
Your emphasis on securing Mr. Tsege a lawyer ignores the fact that both the Ethiopian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister have confirmed that “there is no appeal process” available to Mr. Tsege, and that it is “not possible” for him to appeal his in absentia death sentence. [iii]
The FCO’s approach is further undermined by Ethiopia’s failure to deliver on a promise to your predecessor five months ago that Mr. Tsege would be granted legal access. [iv] Since then prison authorities have yet to even pass Mr. Tsege pen and paper with which to request legal advice.
Should Mr. Tsege at some point in the future be allowed to write a letter to a lawyer, he would find this of little use: Reprieve has now contacted all 20 lawyers on the FCO’s own list of proposed lawyers in Ethiopia and 19 out of 20 did not respond or did not even have valid contact details.
By focusing solely on the request that Mr. Tsege be granted a lawyer, the FCO is neglecting to address Mr. Tsege’s illegal kidnap, illegal transfer to Ethiopia, and illegal in absentia death sentence – grave abuses which have led the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to call for Mr. Tsege’s immediate release. [v] Worse still, the approach risks lending credibility to a sham legal process that will only prolong Mr. Tsege’s ordeal.
Mr. Tsege was sentenced to death in 2009 in proceedings described by the US State Department as “lacking in basic elements of due process” [vi], which he was not even invited to attend.[vii] The African Commission is currently reviewing the complete lack of due process that Andy is facing. It strains credulity to think that at this stage a lawyer could help Mr. Tsege navigate the same corrupted justice system.
Your letter claims that “Britain does not interfere in the legal systems of other countries”, but in fact the UK has frequently requested and secured the release of British nationals who have been arbitrarily detained. Lee Po in China [viii] and Karl Andree in Saudi Arabia [ix] are just two recent examples.
Given the catalogue of abuses Mr. Tsege has suffered, and the reality that he will not and cannot obtain legal relief in Ethiopia, we urge you to take a similar approach to his case, and call for his immediate release and return to his family.
Please do not hesitate to contact me should you wish to discuss this matter further.
Maya Foa, Director, Reprieve
Henry Maina, East Africa Director, Article 19
Soleyana S. Gebremichael, Coordinator, Ethiopia Human Rights Project
Jago Russel, Chief Executive, Fair Trials International
Dr. Carla Ferstman, Director, Redress
[i] FCO Correspondence on Andargachew Tsege, British national currently detained in Ethiopia: open letter to supporters published on the website of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) on 26th August 2016. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/andargachew-tsege-british-national-currently-detained-in-ethiopia-open-letter-to-supporters
[iii] Note of a meeting between the Secretary of State for International Development and the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, 16 July 2015, disclosed to Ms Hailemariam on 29 January 2016 pursuant to a Subject Access Request under the Data Protection Act 1998; Note of a meeting with the Foreign Minister of Ethiopia, Dr Tedros Adhanom, 21 July 2015, disclosed to Ms Hailemariam on 29 January 2016 pursuant to a Subject Access Request under the Data Protection Act 1998.
[v] Opinion adopted by the UN Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention at its 72nd meeting, 20-29 April 2015. In March 2016, the UN Special Rapporteur similarly concluded that Ethiopia had violated the Convention Against Torture in sentencing Mr Tsege to death “without due process”. Report of UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to Human Rights Council (March 2016), para 148.
[vi] ‘Scenesetter for Codel Meeks visit to Ethiopia: February 16-17, 2010’, cable from US Embassy Addis Ababa, 8 February 2010, published by WikiLeaks: https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/10ADDISABABA244_a.html
[vii] ‘Attempted coup or opposition round up’, cable from US Embassy Addis Ababa, 27 April 2009, published by WikiLeaks: https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/10ADDISABABA244_a.html
[viii] House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee: ‘The FCO’s administration and funding of its human rights work overseas: Government Response to the Committee’s Fourth Report of Session 2015-16, published 10 July 2016. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmfaff/545/545.pdf
[ix] Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond MP’s statement on the return of Karl Adree to the UK, 11 November 2015: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/foreign-secretary-statement-on-the-return-of-karl-andree-to-the-uk
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
From November 2013 until last month, reviews — Periodic Review Boards — took place for 64 Guantánamo prisoners who had been assessed as “too dangerous to release” or eligible for prosecution by the previous review process, conducted by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009.
The PRBs — consisting 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 — have so far delivered 57 decisions, approving 34 men for release, while upholding the ongoing imprisonment of 25 others. Five decisions have yet to be taken in the process, which is similar to parole, although with one obvious difference— none of the men at Guantánamo have been tried or convicted. Like parole, however, the PRBs require them to show remorse, and to demonstrate that they would establish peaceful and constructive lives if released.
The success rate in the PRBs to date — 58% — confirms that the decisions in 2009 demonstrated unnecessary caution on the part of the officials who made up the Guantánamo Review Task Force. For further details, see the definitive Periodic Review Board list that I wrote for the Close Guantánamo website that I established in January 2012 with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Read the rest of this entry »
On September 1, Ahmed Rabbani (ISN 1461), a Pakistani prisoner at Guantánamo (also identified as Ahmad Rabbani, and known to the the US authorities as Mohammed Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani), became the 63rd — and penultimate — prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board. A long-term hunger striker, he was described as looking “frail” by Courthouse News, which also noted that he “has a long, thick black beard and wore a white covering on his head,”, and that, “Leaning forward with his arms folded on the table in front of him during the hearing, [he] seemed slight, especially when he raised his arm and the sleeve of the loose, white shirt he wore slid down his thin bicep.”
Seized in Karachi, Pakistan on September 9, 2002, with his brother Abdul Rahim, whose PRB took place on July 7, he was regarded as an al-Qaeda facilitator, and was held and tortured in CIA “black sites” for two years, before arriving at Guantánamo with nine other allegedly “medium-value detainees” in September 2004. The US still regards him as an al-Qaeda supporter, although his lawyers argue that he is a case of mistaken identity, and that he wishes only to be reunited with his family and live in peace.
The Periodic Review Boards, as I explained at the time of Abdul Rahim’s review, “were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the men not already approved for release or facing trials. These men were described by the government task force that reviewed their cases in 2009 as ‘too dangerous to release,’ despite a lack of evidence against them, or were recommended for prosecution, until the basis for prosecution largely collapsed. The PRBs have been functioning like parole boards, with the men in question — 64 in total — having to establish, to the satisfaction of the board members, 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, that they show remorse for their previous actions, that they bear no ill-will towards the US, that they have no associations with anyone regarded as being involved in terrorism, and that they have plans in place for their life after Guantánamo, preferably with the support of family members.” Read the rest of this entry »
In the last three weeks, six Periodic Review Boards have taken place at Guantánamo, in which prisoners recommended for ongoing imprisonment by a high-level task force six years ago are being given a parole-like opportunity to plead for their release. I’ll be writing about those reviews soon, but before I do so I’d like to sum up four other decisions taken over this same period — one decision to approve a prisoner for release, and three others upholding prisoners’ ongoing detention. 62 reviews have now taken place, since the PRBs began in November 2013, and out of those reviews 33 men have been recommended for release, 19 have had their ongoing imprisonment upheld, and ten decisions have yet to be taken. Two final reviews are taking place in the next two weeks.
The man whose release was approved is Sufyian Barhoumi (ISN 694), an Algerian, born in July 1973, whose PRB took place on May 26. Seized in a house with the “high-value detainee’ Abu Zubaydah, whose review also took place recently, Barhoumi was alleged by the US authorities to have been a bomb-maker, and had been put forward for a trial by military commission under President Bush, although the charges were later dropped.
For his PRB, however, his attorney, Shayana Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights painted a compelling portrait of a ”natural diplomat,” popular with both his fellow prisoners and the guard force. As Kadidal put it, “I personally have never seen any other detainee treated by the guards as well as Barhoumi, even at times when relations between prisoners and the authorities were at a low point.” He added, “If the language barrier is one of the greatest causes of misunderstandings and conflict at GTMO, he’s used his language skills to help both prisoners and guards quash problems before they grew too big to tame. It has not gone unappreciated by either group.” Read the rest of this entry »
There was good news from Guantánamo last week, as 15 men were released, to begin new lives in the United Arab Emirates. The release was the largest single release of prisoners under President Obama, and takes the total number of men held at Guantánamo down to 61, the lowest level it has been since the prison’s first few weeks of its operations, in January 2002.
12 of the 15 men released are Yemenis, while the remaining three are Afghans. All had to have third countries found that would offer them new homes, because the entire US establishment refuses to repatriate any Yemenis, on the basis that the security situation in Yemen means they cannot be adequately monitored, and Afghans cannot be repatriated because of legislation passed by Congress. The UAE previously accepted five Yemenis prisoners from Guantánamo last November.
Of the 15 men, six — all Yemenis — were approved for release back in 2009 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office for the first time. This article tells the stories of those six men, while another article to follow will tell the stories of the other nine. Read the rest of this entry »
On July 7, a Periodic Review Board took place for Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani (also identified for the PRB as Abdul Rabbani Abu Rahmah), a Pakistani prisoner at Guantánamo (born in Saudi Arabia) who was seized in Karachi, Pakistan on September 9, 2002 and held and tortured in CIA “black sites” for two years, before arriving at Guantánamo with nine other allegedly “medium-value detainees” in September 2004. He was seized with his younger brother, Ahmad (aka Mohammed), who is awaiting a date for his PRB, and who, last year, sought assistance from the Pakistani government in a submission to the Pakistani courts.
The PRBs were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the men not already approved for release or facing trials. These men were described by the government task force that reviewed their cases in 2009 as “too dangerous to release,” despite a lack of evidence against them, or were recommended for prosecution, until the basis for prosecution largely collapsed. The PRBs have been functioning like parole boards, with the men in question — 64 in total — having to establish, to the satisfaction of the board members, 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, that they show remorse for their previous actions, that they bear no ill-will towards the US, that they have no associations with anyone regarded as being involved in terrorism, and that they have plans in place for their life after Guantánamo, preferably with the support of family members.
Around the time of Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani’s PRB, which is discussed at length below, four decisions were also taken relating to prisoners whose reviews had already taken place, when three men were approved for release, and one had his request to be released turned down. These decisions meant that, of the 52 prisoners whose cases had been reviewed, 27 have been approved for release, 13 have had their ongoing imprisonment recommended, and 12 decisions have yet to be made. 11 more reviews have yet to take place (and one took place last week, which I’ll be writing about soon). See here for my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the website of the Close Guantánamo campaign that I co-founded with the US attorney Tom Wilner, and that I have been running since 2012. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, Haroon al-Afghani, who is around 35 years old and was one of the last prisoners to arrive at Guantánamo, in June 2007, became the 46th prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board. This latest of many review processes at Guantánamo began in November 2013 to provide reviews akin to parole boards for 71 men — 46 described as “too dangerous to release” by the previous review process, the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009, and 25 others recommended for prosecution by the task force, until the basis for prosecutions largely collapsed in 2012-13, after appeals court judges threw out a number of convictions on the basis that the war crimes for which the men had been sentenced were not legitimate war crimes, and had been invented by Congress.
By the time the PRBs began, seven men had been removed from consideration — five “forever prisoners” were freed in a prisoner exchange, and two men initially recommended for prosecutions agreed to plea deals in the military commissions. Of the 64 remaining prisoners eligible for PRBs, 35 decisions have so far been taken — and 24 of those decisions have been recommendations for release, demonstrating, if any proof were needed, that the task force’s assessments of the men back in 2010 were unacceptably exaggerated.
Al-Afghani was one of the men recommended for prosecution by the task force in 2010, but in truth there never seemed to have been a viable war crimes case against him. Although the Pentagon described him, when he arrived at Guantánamo, as a “dangerous terror suspect,” who was “known to be associated with high-level militants in Afghanistan,” and had apparently “admitted to serving as a courier for al-Qaeda Senior Leadership (AQSL),” it seemed more probable that he had been part of a militia that, although opposed to the US, was not something to genuinely consider in anything other than a military context. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce the number of men held at Guantánamo, via Periodic Review Boards, continued with two more reviews. The PRBs were established in 2013 to review the cases of 41 men regarded as “too dangerous to release,” and 23 others recommended for prosecution, and were moving with glacial slowness until this year, when, realizing that time was running out, President Obama and his officials took steps to speed up the process.
35 cases have, to date, been decided by the PRBs, and in 24 of those cases, the board members have recommended the men for release, while upholding the detention of 11 others. This is a success rate for the prisoners of 69%, rather undermining the claims, made in 2010 by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, that the men described as “too dangerous to release” deserved that designation, even though the task force had conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put the men on trial.
In fact that description — “too dangerous to release” — has severely unravelled under the scrutiny of the PRBs, as 22 of those recommended for release had been placed in that category by the task force. The task force was rather more successful with its decisions regarding the alleged threat posed by those it thought should be prosecuted, as five of the eleven recommended of ongoing imprisonment had initially been recommended for prosecution by the task force. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, I published an article about the latest releases from Guantánamo — two Libyans, one of whom was Omar Mohammed Khalifh, a Libyan amputee seized in Pakistan in a house raid in 2002.
Khalifh had been approved for release last September by a Periodic Review Board — a process set up two and a half years ago to review the cases of all the men still held at Guantánamo who were not either facing trials (just ten men) or had not already been approved for release in 2010 by another review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force.
Until the PRB’s decision was announced, I thought Khalifh had been seized in a house raid in Karachi, Pakistan in February 2002, but the documentation for the PRB revealed that he had been seized in a house raid in Faisalabad on March 28, 2002, the day that Abu Zubaydah, a training camp facilitator mistakenly regarded as a senior member of Al-Qaeda, was seized in another house raid. I had thought that 15 men had been seized in the raid that, it now transpires, also included Khalifh, but I had always maintained that they had been seized by mistake, as a judge had also suggested in 2009, and in fact 13 of them have now been released (and one other died in 2006), leaving, I believe, just two of the 16 still held. Read the rest of this entry »
Finally freed from prison in Morocco on February 11, 149 days after he was released from Guantánamo, Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri) spoke to the Associated Press last week on the terrace of a cafe in his hometown, Safi, with his younger brother Ridouane, who was freed from Guantánamo in 2004.
I have been covering Younous’s story for many years, as I recognized in my research for my book The Guantánamo Files, published in 2007, that he strenuously denied having had anything to do with Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda, whose philosophy he despised, and in the years that followed nothing deterred me from this opinion, as I found out that Younous was one of the best-behaved prisoners in Guantánamo, and was also a Sufi Muslim, “whose form of religion,” as the AP described it, accurately, “is viewed with suspicion by extremist groups like IS and al-Qaida.” See my archive of articles about Younous here and here.
In its interview last week, the AP noted that, according to unclassified US military documents provided by Younous’s lawyers at the London-based legal organization Reprieve, and submitted to the US authorities as part of Younous’ habeas corpus proceedings, “he suffered serious abuse at the hands of the United States, in detention in Afghanistan,” part of which “involved threats made against his younger brother, Ridouane.” 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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