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 »
On Monday and Tuesday, as I explained in a subsequent article, “an important step took place in the quest for those who ordered and undertook torture in the Bush administration’s ‘war on terror’ to be held accountable for their actions,” when a ground-breaking hearing took place in Strasbourg. For the first time since the start of the “war on terror” and the abuses that, in particular, took place between 2002 and 2006, the European Court of Human Rights listened to evidence about the role of the Polish authorities in the extraordinary rendition, secret detention and torture of two men currently held in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
Both men were held at a secret prison at Stare Kiejkuty in the northeast of the country, between December 2002, when they were moved from a previous CIA “black site” in Thailand, until October 2003, when they were moved for five months to “Strawberry Fields,” a secret facility in Guantánamo, until the Bush administration realized that the Supreme Court was about to grant the Guantánamo prisoners habeas corpus rights, thereby allowing lawyers to visit and to shatter the secrecy that was necessary for torture abuse to take place unchallenged. They were then shunted around other “black sites” in Romania, Lithuania and Morocco, until they were returned to Guantánamo in September 2006, with 12 other “high-value detainees” held in “black sites” for several years.
Writing about the hearing, Crofton Black, an investigator with Reprieve, one of the organizations representing Abu Zubaydah, stated that the court had “heard overwhelming and uncontested evidence that the CIA was running a secret torture prison on Polish soil, with the Polish government’s knowledge.” As I wrote in my article, “although I am prepared for disappointment, I certainly hope that the European Court of Human Rights will find that the Polish authorities acted unlawfully in hosting a CIA ‘black site’ on their territory.” Read the rest of this entry »
STOP PRESS December 8: I just heard from Joy Hurcombe, the chair of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, that Clive Stafford Smith will also be speaking at the Parliamentary meeting on Tuesday.
If you’re in London, or anywhere near, and you care about the ongoing injustices of Guantánamo, then please come to a Parliamentary meeting for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo Bay, on Tuesday December 10, which is Human Rights Day. Established by the UN in 1950, Human Rights Day marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was approved on December 10, 1948.
Please also sign the international petition calling for his release, on the Care 2 Petition site.
Shaker, whose voice was recently recorded at Guantánamo by a CBS news crew, is one of 82 prisoners in Guantánamo who have long been cleared for release but are still held, and his continued imprisonment remains thoroughly unacceptable, because, although Congress has raised obstacles to the release of prisoners to countries they regard as dangerous, there is no conceivable way that the UK — America’s staunchest ally in the “war on terror” — could be regarded as an unsafe destination. Furthermore, the release yesterday of two Algerian prisoners who did not want to be repatriated, because they fear for their safety in their home country, which has a dubious human rights record, is not only a deeply troubling outcome for them, but also adds insult to injury where Shaker is concerned.
On the 65th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Parliamentary meeting, organised by John McDonnell MP, one of the few genuinely principled MPs in Parliament, is entitled, “Why is Shaker Aamer still in Guantanamo? What about his human rights?” and is taking place from 7-9pm in Committee Room 10 in the House of Commons, London WC1A 0AA. Read the rest of this entry »
On Monday and Tuesday, an important step took place in the quest for those who ordered and undertook torture in the Bush administration’s “war on terror” to be held accountable for their actions, when the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg held a hearing to examine the role of the Polish authorities in the extraordinary rendition, secret detention and torture of two men currently held in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
Both men are amongst the 14 “high-value detainees” who arrived at Guantánamo in September 2006 after years of incommunicado detention and torture in a variety of CIA “black sites,” one of which was in Poland, and as Interights, the International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights, explained in a news release, “This historic court hearing [is] the first time a European country has been taken to court for allowing the CIA to run a torture site on its territory and comes after years of silence from the Polish government about the CIA’s prison there.”
The cases of these two men are enormously significant for everyone seeking accountability, as they are two of only three prisoners whom the US had admitted were subjected to waterboarding, the ancient torture technique that involves controlled drowning. With another “high-value detainee,” Ramzi bin al-Shibh, they were the only men held at a CIA “black site” in Thailand prior to their transfer to Poland in December 2002. In October 2003, they were moved to a secret “black site” within Guantánamo, identified as “Strawberry Fields,” and were then moved around a number of other CIA “black sites” in Romania, Lithuania and Morocco until their eventual return to Guantánamo in 2006. Read the rest of this entry »
Please sign the petition, on the Care 2 Petition Site, calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison.
In September 2013, a team from CBS News’ “60 Minutes” show traveled to Guantánamo, producing a 13-minute show, “Life at Gitmo,” broadcast on November 17, which was most notable for featuring the voice of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who shouted out while the presenter, Lesley Stahl, and her guide, Col. John Bogdan, the prison’s warden, were walking though one of the cell blocks.
Shaker shouted out, “Tell the world the truth. Please, we are tired. Either you leave us to die in peace — or either tell the world the truth. Open up the place. Let the world come and visit. Let the world hear what’s happening. Please colonel, act with us like a human being, not like slaves.”
He added, “You cannot walk even half a meter without being chained. Is that a human being? That’s the treatment of an animal. It is very sad what is happening in this place.”
The video is below, and the segment featuring Shaker begins about three minutes in: Read the rest of this entry »
Today, at 11 am Eastern time (4 pm GMT), lawyers for three prisoners still held at Guantánamo Bay — including the last British resident, Shaker Aamer — will ask the appeals court in Washington D.C. to order the government to end the force-feeding of prisoners, denounced by the World Medical Association and the UN, in which, as the legal action charity Reprieve explained in a press release, “a detainee is shackled to a specially-made restraint chair and a tube is forced into his nostril, down his oesophagus, and through to his stomach.”
At the height of the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo this year, 46 men were being force-fed. That total has now fallen to 15, but twice a day those 15 men are tied into restraint chairs, while liquid nutrient is pumped into their stomachs via a tube inserted through their nose.
As well as Shaker Aamer, the other petitioners in the appeal are Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian, and Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian. All three were cleared for release by President Obama’s inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in January 2010, and are represented by Reprieve and Jon B. Eisenberg. Read the rest of this entry »
Below is a powerful new animated film, six minutes in length, which tells the story of the hunger strike at Guantánamo that began in February, and involved the majority of the 164 prisoners still held over the six-month period that followed. At its height, 46 prisoners were being force-fed, and even though just 17 prisoners are still taking part in the hunger strike, 16 of them are being force-fed. Force-feeding is a brutal process, condemned by the medical profession, but it is difficult to understand what is happening at Guantánamo because no images are available of prisoners being force-fed.
To overcome the difficulty for people to empathize with people whose suffering is deliberately kept hidden, the new animated film, “Guantánamo Bay: The Hunger Strikes,” produced by Mustafa Khalili and Guy Grandjean of the Guardian, and the animation company Sherbet, features the testimony of four prisoners, all of whom have been cleared for release but are still held (a situation in which 84 of the remaining 164 prisoners find themselves). The film, which depicts life in the prison, including the horrible reality of force-feeding, is narrated by the actors David Morrisey and Peter Capaldi. See here for an account of the making of the film in today’s Observer, and see here for David Morrissey’s comments about it.
The men whose stories are featured are Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, Younus Chekhouri (aka Younous Chekkouri), a Moroccan who has strong ties to Germany, Samir Moqbel (aka Mukbel), a Yemeni whose op-ed in the New York Times in April drew attention to the hunger strike, and Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian who lived in the UK before his capture. The film also includes testimony from Nabil Hadjarab, one of just two prisoners released since President Obama promised to resume releasing cleared prisoners in May, and all of the statements were provided by the men’s lawyers at Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity. Read the rest of this entry »
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