In an important concession, the US government has publicly admitted that the information it drew on to describe former Guantánamo prisoner Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri) as a threat was profoundly unreliable, and that it ceased to accept it as reliable back in 2011.
Chekkouri was repatriated to his home country of Morocco from Guantánamo on September 16, and, as his lawyers at the London-based legal charity Reprieve described it in a press release, just issued, “His transfer was subject to diplomatic assurances between Morocco and the US, which included agreements that there was no basis to charge him; that Morocco would not prosecute him; and that he would be detained no longer than 72 hours. However, after his arrival in Morocco Mr. Chekkouri was taken to Salé prison near Rabat, where he continues to be held in violation of the assurances.”
At a court hearing tomorrow (October 22), the Moroccan investigating magistrate “will determine whether Mr. Chekkouri should be set free,” as Reprieve described it, adding, “It is believed that the Moroccan authorities are detaining Mr. Chekkouri on the basis of the same allegations that the US government has now withdrawn against him.” Read the rest of this entry »
As people around the world continue to undertake 24-hour fasts in solidarity with Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo — as part of the Fast For Shaker campaign I launched last week with the activist Joanne MacInnes, with whom I set up the influential We Stand With Shaker campaign last year — there has been some very positive news from Cori Crider, one of Shaker’s lawyers at the London-based legal charity Reprieve, who told me when we met at the weekend that, on her visit to Guantánamo last week, Shaker had been persuaded to break his strike, and to drink a calorie-rich mango smoothie, because he was so moved by the pledges of campaigners to fast on his behalf, so that he can look after himself prior to his release from Guantánamo and his return to his family in London. I am not entirely sure that he has completely given up his hunger strike, but the fact that he has been so moved by campaigners that he has been taking in sustenance is great news indeed.
Shaker’s return to the UK should take place by October 25 — at the end of the 30-day notification period that the US Congress insists on, which campaigners have been marking ever since it was announced on September 25 that President Obama had told British Prime Minister David Cameron that Shaker is be freed.
The second aim of the rolling Fast For Shaker was to make sure that the administration kept to its word, and on that front it is, of course, worthwhile for people to keep fasting, and to keep pledging to fast. Shaker was first told that the US no longer wanted to hold him eight years ago, and was told this again six years ago under President Obama, after a high-level, inter-agency review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, also concluded that he should no longer be held. Read the rest of this entry »
I’m in a hurry, so please see below for the press release for tomorrow’s launch, in London, of We Stand With Shaker‘s new initiative, Fast For Shaker. This morning, I was at a meeting of the All-Party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group with MPs David Davis, Andrew Mitchell, Andy Slaughter, Tania Mathias and others, plus lots of campaigners.
Then I was in Kensington for an interview on London Live, about the launch of Fast For Shaker, which I hope is online somewhere. More info later. For now, here’s the press release. if you’re in London, please come along! Otherwise, keep signing up for the fast, and send in photos!
MPs David Davis, John McDonnell, Caroline Lucas, Andy Slaughter, Tania Mathias, Tom Brake Attend, Plus Shaker’s Father-In-Law Saeed Siddique, representatives of Reprieve, Actor David Morrissey and Comedian Sara Pascoe Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been very busy lately — mainly with the launch of Fast For Shaker, a new campaign for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo — and didn’t have the time until now to write about a fascinating project by the artist Laurie Anderson, who staged an event, in New York — “Habeas Corpus” — where she beamed in, live, a giant 3D projection of former Guantánamo child prisoner Mohammed el-Gharani.
Mohammed was one of at least 23 juveniles held at Guantánamo, although only three were officially acknowledged. See Al-Jazeera’s important new documentary, Growing up Guantánamo, for more about this — it focuses on Asadullah Rahman, an Afghan who was just ten when he was seized and sent to Guantánamo with two other Afghan boys.
At Guantánamo, where Mohammed was held between 2002 and 2009, he was subjected to torture, as the US denied his true age (14 or just 15 when he was seized) and tried to tie him in to all manner of ridiculous plots — like an invented al-Qaeda cell in London, which he was supposed to have been part of, even though he was only 11 at the time, and had never left Saudi Arabia, where he was born to parents from Chad. I first wrote about him in my book The Guantánamo Files, in 2007, and then wrote a profile of him in April 2008, Guantánamo’s forgotten child: the sad story of Mohammed El-Gharani, covered a judge granting his habeas corpus petition in January 2009, and his release in June 2009, followed by further complications relating to his return to Chad, despite his parents living in Saudi Arabia — see Mohammed speaking to Al-Jazeera here, for example, and this report from an investigator with his lawyers at Reprieve in December 2009, and please, if you have time, read the long interview with him, by the journalist Jérôme Tubiana, which was published in the London Review of Books in December 2011. Read the rest of this entry »
Since getting the news last weekend that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, has embarked on a hunger strike and fears that he won’t make it out of Guantánamo alive, despite being told on September 25 that he will be freed soon, Joanne MacInnes and I, the co-founders and co-directors of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, have been working like crazy to get a new campaign going.
And with the wonderful support of web designer Tuqire Hussain, we are now delighted to launch Fast For Shaker, a new website and campaign in which we’re asking celebrities, MPs, campaigners and concerned citizens to embark on a hunger strike of their own, for a day — or more, if you wish — in solidarity with Shaker, starting on Thursday October 15, when the campaign is officially launched.
Please Pledge a Fast (and share on Facebook and Twitter after doing so), send in a photo of yourself on the day of your fast, with a poster downloadable here, to join our Supporters Photos, check out the Calendar here, and check out the celebrity list here. Please also read the Fasting Guidelines. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been so busy with the news of the planned release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, that I have a few other stories to catch up on, one being the case of Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), a Moroccan who was repatriated on September 16, but is now imprisoned and awaiting a trial, in defiance of the diplomatic assurances agreed between the US and Moroccan governments prior to his release.
Immediately after his release, as I wrote about here, Younous was imprisoned incommunicado, in an unknown location. His brother was then allowed to speak to him, and he “said he sounded OK and in good spirits.” However, on September 20, AFP reported that “he was under investigation on suspicion of terror-related offences and would appear before a public prosecutor,” noting that, in Morocco, terror suspects “can be held without charge for 48 hours, which is renewable once,” and Younous “could therefore appear in court on Monday [September 21].”
By September 21, he had has been “placed in ‘provisional detention’ in Morocco’s notorious Salé prison without bail.” He had been allowed to meet with a local lawyer, but the news was not good. Reprieve noted that he was “facing the possibility of charges of ‘attempts to disrupt the security of the country,’” which Cori Crider, his lawyer in London, described as “utterly baseless.” Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday, just ten days after the announcement that Shaker Aamer is finally to be freed from Guantánamo and returned to his family, was quite a disturbing day for those of us who care about Shaker and his health, as the Mail on Sunday ran a seven-page feature on Shaker that centered on his lawyer Clive Stafford Smith’s report of his latest words from Guantánamo, via a recent phone call.
Shaker stated, as the Mail on Sunday put it, that “he is on a hunger strike in protest at an assault by guards, who, he says, forced him to give blood samples,” and that he is “still being subjected to brutal physical abuse” by the authorities, and he also expressed his fears that he will not make it out of Guantánamo alive. As he said in his own words: “I know there are people who do not want me ever to see the sun again. It means nothing that they have signed papers, as anything can happen before I get out. So if I die, it will be the full responsibility of the Americans.”
This is rather bleak, and it made those of us who worry about Shaker’s health very unsettled. In my conversations with people yesterday, we also reflected on how the news must have been very disturbing for Shaker’s family. However, it is not all darkness. In another key passage, not picked up by the headline writers, Shaker said, powerfully, in words that illuminate his passion for justice and the tenacity that so many of us have admired over the years, “I do not want to be a hero. I am less than a lot of people who suffered in this place. But all this time I stood for certain principles: for human rights, freedom of speech, and democracy. I cannot give up.” Read the rest of this entry »
In the week since it was announced that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, is to be released, to be returned to his family in the UK, there has been a huge sigh of relief from the many, many people who campaigned for his release — supporters of the long-standing Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, which I have been involved with for many years, attending protests and speaking at events, of We Stand With Shaker, the campaign I established with Joanne MacInnes last November, which drew huge support for photos of celebrities and MPs standing with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker, and supporters of the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, established last November by John McDonnell MP, a persistent supporter of worthy causes and fighter against injustice, who, with Caroline Lucas (our sole Green MP), Jeremy Corbyn and Shaker’s constituency MP, Jane Ellison, has been the most consistent MP supporting Shaker’s cause.
My article celebrating the news of Shaker’s forthcoming release was liked and shared by over 1,500 people on Facebook. Posted on the Close Guantánamo page, it has reached over 21,000 people; on the We Stand With Shaker page it has reached over 11,000 people. Thank you to everyone who has supported the various campaigns to secure Shaker’s release, including the MPs who traveled to Washington D.C. in May to call for his release, meeting with Senators and Obama administration officials — David Davis and Andrew Mitchell of the Conservatives, and Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Slaughter of the Labour Party.
Now, of course, Jeremy is the leader of the Labour Party, and John McDonnell is the shadow chancellor — a wonderful development for those who care about tackling injustice. Jeremy was elected on an anti-austerity platform, and because of his honesty and decency, and all of the above was apparent in his speech as leader to the Labour Party Conference, when he specifically thanked Shaker’s supporters, and in particular the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign: Read the rest of this entry »
Reprieve, the international human rights organization whose lawyers represent prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay, has just learned that one of its clients, Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), a 47-year old Moroccan national, has been repatriated to Morocco, but is being held incommunicado and in a secret location.
In a press release, Reprieve notes that its representatives “have been unable to meet or speak to him since the US handed him to Moroccan authorities. He is being held in an unknown location, and has not been allowed so far to contact his local lawyer, in apparent violation of Moroccan law.”
They also add that they are “increasingly concerned for the safety and well-being” of their client.
I have covered Younous’ story many times over the years. See my archive here, and see this love letter that he wrote to his wife last year. Also see “My Road to Guantánamo,” published by Vice News last November, in which he told the story of his capture and explained why he did not wish to return to Morocco and was seeking a third country to offer him a new home — a wish that has obviously been ignored by the US authorities. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. 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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