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 »

US Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo Force-Feeding Tapes, Condemns Government Delays

Former Guantanamo prisoner Abu Wa'el Dhiab after his release (in Uruguay in December 2014). This is a screen shot from a TV broadcast in Argentina, where Mr. Dhiab travelled in February, to call for the government to offer new homes to other Guantanamo prisoners.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.

Sick of delaying tactics, a US federal court judge has ordered the government to stop wasting time with “frivolous” appeals against her rulings, and to release videotapes showing a Guantánamo prisoner being brutally force-fed.

On October 3 last year, in the District Court in Washington D.C., Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the government to prepare for public release 32 videotapes of a Guantánamo prisoner, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, being dragged from his cell and force-fed. The tapes contained 11 hours of footage in total, and, as I explained at the time, Judge Kessler responded to the government’s concerns about the need for anonymity for US personnel by ordering them to be “redacted for ‘all identifiers of individuals’ other than Mr. Dhiab.”

That was over nine months ago, and on Friday (July 10), Judge Kessler ordered the government to “complete all national security-related redactions to the first eight tapes — which show Abu Wa’el Dhiab being forcibly removed from his cell and tube-fed — by August 31, and to complete other key redactions by September 30,” as Mr. Dhiab’s lawyers at Reprieve explained in a press release. 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 »

Who Are the Six Yemenis Freed from Guantánamo and Resettled in Oman?

Idris Ahmad Abdu Qader Idris, in a photo included in the classified US military documents (the Detainee Assessment Briefs) released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.So it’s good news from Guantánamo, as six Yemenis — long cleared for release — have been freed and resettled in the Gulf state of Oman. These are the first men to be released since January, and the first under the watch of the new defense secretary Ashton Carter, who, as defense secretary, has to sign off on any proposed releases, certifying to Congress that it is safe to do so.

They follow four of their compatriots who were resettled in Oman in the last batch of transfers, five months ago, on January 14. With these releases, 116 men remain at Guantánamo, and 51 of those men have been approved for release — 44 since 2009, when the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009 issued its recommendations about who to release, who to prosecute and who to continue holding without charge or trial. The other seven have had their release approved, in the last year and a half, by Periodic Review Boards, established to review the cases of all the prisoners not approved for release by the task force, with the exception of the small number of men facing trials.

Of these 51, all but eight are Yemenis, the victims of a refusal, across the entire US establishment, to contemplate repatriating them because of the security situation in their home country. The other eight include Tariq al-Sawah, a morbidly obese Egyptian who was cleared for release by a PRB in February. and three men cleared by the task force and mentioned in a Washington Post article predicting a rash of releases in April, which I wrote about here. Read the rest of this entry »

Appeals Court Refuses to Allow Government to Block Release of Guantánamo Force-Feeding Tapes

Abu Wa'el Dhiab photographed after his release in Uruguay with a picture he painted after his release (Photo: Oscar Bonilla).Last Friday, the appeals court in Washington, D.C. — the D.C. Circuit Court — kept alive hopes that the US government will be forced to release footage of a hunger striking Guantánamo prisoner being violently removed from his cell and force-fed, when a three-judge panel — consisting of Chief Judge Merrick Garland, Judge Patricia Millett and Judge Robert Wilkins — refused to accept an appeal by the government arguing against the release of the videotapes.

When the court heard the case last month, Justice Department attorneys “argued that the courts cannot order evidence used in trial to be unsealed if it has been classified by the government,” as The Intercept described it. Justice Department lawyer Catherine Dorsey told the judges, “We don’t think there is a First Amendment right to classified documents.” The Intercept added that the judges “appeared skeptical. Chief Judge Merrick Garland characterized the government’s position as tantamount to claiming the court ‘has absolutely no authority’ to unseal evidence even if it’s clear the government’s bid to keep it secret is based on ‘irrationality’ or that it’s ‘hiding something.'”

The tapes are of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner who spent last year challenging the government’s force-feeding program in the courts. Dhiab was freed in Uruguay in December, but his case continues. In June, Cori Crider, one of Dhiab’s lawyers at the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, said after viewing the videos, which have only to date been seen by the lawyers, “While I’m not allowed to discuss the contents of these videos, I can say that I had trouble sleeping after viewing them.”

Writing of the ruling, Reprieve noted that the court “ordered the Obama Administration to redact 12 hours of secret Guantánamo force-feeding footage in preparation for its public release, rejecting the Administration’s argument that not one single frame should be seen by the public.” Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer’s Latest Words from Guantánamo; Thanks Roger Waters, Says, “I Am An Innocent Man and a Good Person”

Andy Worthington and Joanne MacInnes of We Stand With Shaker with music legend Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd) at the launch of the campaign outside the Houses of Parliament on November 24, 2014 (Photo: Stefano Massimo).In the latest news about Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who has long been cleared for release, and who wants only to return to his family in London, his lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of the legal action charity Reprieve, released sections from a number of Shaker’s recent letters from the prison. Clive made Shaker’s words available to We Stand With Shaker, the campaign group I established with Joanne MacInnes last November.

The quotes were subsequently made available to the media and were read out in Parliament yesterday by Jeremy Corbyn MP (Labour, Islington North), a member of the cross-party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, and one of four MPs — along with the Conservatives David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, and his Labour colleague Andy Slaughter — who visited Washington D.C. two weeks ago to discuss Shaker’s case with senior officials.

In a foreign affairs debate in the House of Commons yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn urged ministers to “step up the fight to free Mr. Aamer,” as the Daily Mail described it. “He has never been charged, never been prosecuted, never been through any legal process whatsoever,” Mr. Corbyn said, adding, “Can we have an undertaking from the Foreign Office to follow this up with real vigour to push the Obama administration to name the date by which Shaker Aamer will be released and returned to his family?” Read the rest of this entry »

“Petty and Nasty”: Guantánamo Commander Bans Lawyers From Bringing Food to Share with Prisoners

The meeting room in Camp Echo, mentioned in Guantanamo commander Rear Adm. Cozad's May 2015 memo prohibiting lawyers from bringing food into meetings with the clients, as seen from one of the cells. Camp Echo is where prisoners used to be held in isolation.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.

In the latest news from Guantánamo, the prison’s military commander, Rear Adm. Kyle Cozad, has issued a memorandum banning lawyers for the prisoners from bringing food to meetings with their clients. The memorandum, entitled, “Modification to Rules Regarding Detainee Legal and Periodic Review Board Meetings,” states, “Food of any kind, other than that provided by guard force personnel for Detainee consumption, is prohibited within meeting spaces.”

That innocuous sounding ban is, nevertheless, a huge blow to many lawyers and prisoners. Since lawyers were first allowed to visit prisoners ten years ago, and to represent them, after the Supreme Court granted them habeas corpus rights in Rasul v. Bush in June 2004, it has been an opportunity for bonding between lawyers and prisoners, and an opportunity for the prisoners to receive something from the outside world, in a place where, initially, they were completely cut off from the outside world, and where, even now, over six years after Barack Obama became president, they are still more isolated than any other prisoners held by the US — unable, for example, to meet with any family members, even if their relatives could afford to fly there, and, in almost all cases, held without charge or trial in defiance of international norms.

As veteran Guantánamo reporter Carol Rosenberg explained in an article for the Miami Herald, “the custom of eating with a captive across a meeting table at Camp Echo — with the prisoner shackled by an ankle to the floor — took on cultural and symbolic significance almost from the start when lawyers brought burgers and breakfast sandwiches from the base McDonald’s to prison meetings in 2005.” Read the rest of this entry »

Clive Stafford Smith Confirms That Shaker Aamer Could Be Released from Guantánamo in June

A giant inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantanamo, which was brought along by supporters to the day of action on Guantanamo in Trafalgar Square on May 23, 2014, as part of a global day of action on Guantanamo. The figure later became the centrepiece of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, launched in November 2014 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Back in April, the Washington Post suggested that ten prisoners were in line to be freed from Guantánamo in June, and that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, “may be resettled as early as this summer.” A Saudi national, Shaker was granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK, where his wife, a British national, and his four children live, including his youngest son, born on the day he arrived at Guantánamo in February 2002.

The suggestion that he might be released soon gave hope to his supporters, who have been campaigning for years for his release  — and, more generally, for those who are appalled that anyone should be held in Guantánamo year after year without charge or trial, and after twice being approved for release by high-level US government review processes, in 2007 and 2009, as is the case with Shaker, a vocal critic of the US “war on terror,” who has always fought for the prisoners’ rights throughout his 13 years in US custody.

The suggestion that he might be released soon also gave impetus to the delegation of MPs that visited Washington, D.C. last week, meeting Senators including John McCain and Dianne Feinstein, and stressing the urgent need for a timetable for Shaker’s release — see, for example, the strong words of Andrew Mitchell MP, as reported in the Daily Mail just two days ago. Read the rest of this entry »

MPs Visit US to Discuss the Release of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo with John McCain and Dianne Feinstein

The delegation of British MPs who traveled to Washington, D.C. to call for the release of Shaker Aamer from Guantanamo at a meeting with Sen. John McCain on May 20, 2015. From L to R: Alka Pradhan of Reprieve, Andy Slaughter MP, Andrew Mitchell MP, Sen. John McCain, David Davis MP and Jeremy Corbyn MP.On Tuesday, in an open letter to President Obama and defense secretary Ashton Carter that I drafted, 13 rights groups, including Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker, as well as Amnesty international USA, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Reprieve and others, called for the release of 57 men from Guantánamo (out of the 122 men still in the prison), who are still held despite being approved for release, the majority for over five years.

One of the 57 is Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, and one of the reasons I initiated the letter was to coincide with a visit to Washington, D.C. by a delegation of British MPs, from the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, which was established last November, and, in March, secured the support of the government for the following motion — “That this House calls on the US Government to release Shaker Aamer from his imprisonment in Guantánamo Bay and to allow him to return to his family in the UK.”

The MPs who flew to the US for meetings to try to secure Shaker’s release are the Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn (a longtime colleague of the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group’s chair, John McDonnell) and Shadow Justice Minister Andy Slaughter, and the Conservative MPs David Davis (a former Shadow Home Secretary) and Andrew Mitchell (a former Chief Whip and former International Development Secretary). 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 »

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Andy Worthington

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