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 »
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 »
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 »
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 released — asked 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 »
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 »
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 »
Late last year, as the coalition of groups calling for the closure of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba began deliberations for this year’s protest on the anniversary of the prison’s opening (on January 11), I reached out — as part of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign — to Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity, founded and led by Clive Stafford Smith, whose lawyers represent 15 prisoners still held at Guantánamo.
As we discussed ways to publicize the plight of the prisoners on the 12th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, Reprieve suggested asking Sami al-Haj, a Sudanese prisoner released in 2008, to record a video statement that could be used, and I’m delighted to note that Sami agreed, and his video message to President Obama is posted below.
Sami is the only journalist to have been held at Guantánamo, and he was working as a cameraman for Al-Jazeera when he was seized on assignment crossing from Pakistan to Afghanistan in December 2001. I subsequently covered his story, in particular in the months before his release, when he had embarked on a hunger strike and was providing information to the world about it via Clive. In this period, he also made a number of drawings about the hunger strike. When these were seized by the Pentagon’s censors, Reprieve described them to a British cartoonist, Lewis Peake, who recreated them based on the descriptions, and I told Sami’s story, and reproduced the drawings, in an article entitled, “Sami al-Haj: the banned torture pictures of a journalist in Guantánamo.” Read the rest of this entry »
On the 12th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, I can think of no better person to remind the world of the ongoing injustice of the prison than Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who has persistently challenged the cruelty and idiocy of his captors in the most articulate manner.
I have been writing about Shaker, who has been cleared for release since 2007, and who longs to be reunited with his wife and his four children in south London, for many years, and last year, when the men still held embarked on a prison-wide hunger strike to remind the world of their plight, Shaker’s words — issued via Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal action charity Reprieve, following phone calls with Shaker — regularly provided a powerful and informative commentary on the realities of life in the prison, as can readily be ascertained from the following accounts: From Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer Tells His Lawyer Disturbing Truths About the Hunger Strike, “People Are Dying Here,” Shaker Aamer Reports from Guantánamo, As Petition Calling for His Release Secures 100,000 Signatures and From Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer Tells BBC He Is “Falling Apart Like An Old Car”, as well as Shaker’s own op-eds in the Observer (in May), the Guardian (in June) and the Huffington Post (in November). Please also check out the CBS “60 Minutes” broadcast from Guantánamo, which was powerfully hijacked by Shaker shouting from his cell to attract the attention of Lesley Stahl.
Via Clive, Shaker has provided a statement that will be read out at today’s protest outside the White House, which I will be posting here very soon, but for now it’s my great pleasure to cross-post Shaker’s latest op-ed, as published last Sunday in the Observer, in which he reflected on his own dehumanization by his captors, and also highlighted the extent to which the US has betrayed the values it once upheld in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the basis of “national security” — which, sadly, has in fact been used by the authorities for 12 years as an excuse for numerous criminal activities for which no one has been held accountable, and which continue to keep 155 men at Guantánamo, mostly without charge or trial, and even though 77 of them have been cleared for release. Read the rest of this entry »
As I spend Christmas with family, I recall that, on this Christian holiday, which commemorates the birth of Jesus — drawing on an older tradition of celebrating the winter solstice, and the beginning of the sun’s rebirth after the shortest day of the year — there are other people who are unable to be with their families, including the men in Guantánamo who have been the focus of my work for the last eight years.
In the lull between opening presents and enjoying Christmas dinner, I’m pleased to have the opportunity to make available a recent article from the Huffington Post by Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, whose lawyers represent 15 prisoners still held at Guantánamo, including Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison.
I have been writing about Shaker’s case for the last eight years, and will continue to do so until he is freed, as his ongoing imprisonment is a disgrace that ought to disturb the Christmas dinners of the most senior representatives of two governments — the US and the UK — because there is, simply put, no good reason why he is still held, and is not back in London with his family.
The only reason he is still held is because, as an eloquent, forthright and intelligent man, and the foremost defender of the prisoners’ rights since they were first seized, mostly in Afghanistan and Pakistan 12 years ago, he has come to know more than most of the prisoners about the crimes committed by US officials, operatives and military personnel, and the complicity in these crimes of other countries’ representatives, including, of course, the UK. Read the rest of this entry »
In alarming news from Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, has stated that the prisoners have renewed the hunger strike that, earlier this year, involved at least two-thirds of the remaining prisoners, and reawakened the world’s media to the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo.
The hunger strike provided evidence of the men’s despair, after eleven years’ imprisonment without charge or trial, in an experimental prison where they are still in a legal limbo, held neither as criminal suspects nor as prisoners of war. Their despair was heightened by the fact that 82 of them were cleared for release in January 2010 — nearly four years ago — by a high-level Presidential task force, and yet they are still held, and 80 others are, for the most part, detained without charge or trial, and with no sign of when, if ever, they might either be tried or released. As I explained in a recent article for Al-Jazeera, long-promised reviews for most of these 80 men have recently begun, but the process is both slow and uncertain.
In a recent 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 are now 29 Guantánamo hunger strikers, including him, of whom 19 are being force-fed,” as the Observer described it on Sunday.
“The hunger strike is back on,” Shaker said, adding, “The number is increasing almost every day.” He also explained that he has been on the new hunger strike for almost a month and has lost 30 pounds in weight. On November 8 he weighed 188 pounds, and he now weighs 158 pounds. Read the rest of this entry »
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