Tomorrow afternoon, at 4pm, I’ll be attending an event to mark the 12th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan. This is a horrible anniversary for two particular reasons: firstly, because, as a the father of a 13-year old, it is unacceptable to me that my country has been engaged in permanent war for almost all of his life; and secondly, because, as a writer and activist on Guantánamo, I am aware that the context for the imprisonment of the majority of the men at Guantánamo was the invasion of Afghanistan — where the Geneva Conventions were first discarded, where torture became Standard Operating Procedure, and where indefinite detention without charge or trial became official US policy.
12 years on, and nearly five years after President Obama took office promising to close Guantánamo, his failure to close the prison is a disgrace, and the continued US military presence in Afghanistan continues to demonstrate what a knowledgable friend has described as America snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. I can only hope that the major withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan next year will play a part in bringing our warmongering to an end — although I have no rosy illusions about that — and will also severely damage the rationale for continuing to keep Guantánamo open, but in the meantime, to mark this anniversary, I’m taking part in the event below: Read the rest of this entry »
Since March 2006, I have been researching and writing about Guantánamo and the 779 men (and boys) held there, initially through my book The Guantánamo Files, and, since May 2007, as a full-time independent investigative journalist, assiduously chronicling the crimes of the Bush administration, and for the last four years and 10 months, President Obama’s failure to close the prison, as he promised, as well as the obstacles raised by Congress and parts of the judiciary.
In an effort to make it as easy as possible for readers and researchers to find my work, I began, three years ago, to put together chronological lists of all my articles, in the hope that they will provide a useful tool for navigation, and will provide researchers — and anyone else interested in this particularly bleak period of modern history — with a practical archive. Unfortunately, time restraints left me unable to find the time to make lists for my work from the start of 2012 onwards, so I’m remedying this now with a list covering all my articles from January to June 2012, and will follow up soon with two further articles covering July to December 2012 and January to June this year.
In this period, as well as relentlessly covering Guantánamo, I was also involved in campaigning to try to save the NHS from a full-on assault by the Tory-led government here in the UK, intent of privatising it, as well as, more broadly, resisting the age of austerity cynically introduced by the Tories to wage a disgusting and disgraceful civil war against the poor, the unemployed and the disabled. These are themes that continue to inform my work, as well as the horrors of Guantánamo, torture and indefinite detention. As a famous saying states, “The mark of a civilised society is how it treats its most vulnerable members.” Read the rest of this entry »
What will it take to free Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay? Cleared for release in 2007 under President Bush, and again in 2010 under President Obama, he languishes still in Guantánamo, separated from his British wife and his four British children, because President Obama cannot be bothered to muster the political will to send him home to his family, and the British government may also be to blame, despite claims to the contrary, and despite a request for his return that was made to Barack Obama by David Cameron at a meeting in June.
On Wednesday, Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers represent 15 prisoners still held at Guantánamo, including Shaker Aamer, issued a press release announcing that, in the latest attempt to put pressure on the British government, he has “filed a complaint against the UK security services over their continuing involvement in his detention without charge or trial.”
Shaker has submitted his complaint to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), which “investigates complaints about the conduct of the UK’s intelligence agencies,” although it is “also highly secretive and provides a one-sided process in which the citizen hears at best very little — and usually nothing at all — about the case put against them.” In his complaint, Shaker states, “The actions of the [UK] security services have prevented [my] release due to defamatory statements that have no basis in honest fact.” Read the rest of this entry »
In the busy months in spring, when the prisoners at Guantánamo forced the world to remember their plight by embarking on a prison-wide hunger strike, I was so busy covering developments, reporting the prisoners’ stories, and campaigning for President Obama to take decisive action that I missed a number of other related stories.
In the last few weeks, I’ve revisited some of these stories — of Sufyian Barhoumi, an Algerian who wants to be tried; of Ahmed Zuhair, a long-term hunger striker, now a free man; and of Abdul Aziz Naji, persecuted after his release in Algeria.
As I continue to catch up on stories I missed, I’m delighted to revisit the story of Ahmed Errachidi, a Moroccan prisoner, released in 2007, whose story has long been close to my heart. In March, Chatto & Windus published Ahmed’s account of his experiences, written with Gillian Slovo and entitled, The General: The Ordinary Man Who Challenged Guantánamo.
As I explained in an article two years ago, when an excerpt from the book was first showcased in Granta:
[In 2006,] when I first began researching the stories of the Guantánamo prisoners in depth, for my book The Guantánamo Files, one of the most distinctive and resonant voices in defense of the prisoners and their trampled rights as human beings was Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal action charity Reprieve, whose lawyers represented dozens of prisoners held at Guantánamo.
One of the men represented by Stafford Smith and Reprieve was Ahmed Errachidi, a Moroccan chef who had worked in London for 16 years before his capture in Pakistan, were he had traveled as part of a wild scheme to raise money for an operation that his son needed. What made Ahmed’s story so affecting were three factors: firstly, that he was bipolar, and had suffered horribly in Guantánamo, where his mental health issues had not been taken into account; secondly, that he had been a passionate defender of the prisoners’ rights, and had been persistently punished as result, although he eventually won a concession, when the authorities agreed to no longer refer to prisoners as “packages” when they were moved about the prison; and thirdly, that he had been freed after Stafford Smith proved that, while he was supposed to have been at a training camp in Afghanistan, he was actually cooking in a restaurant on the King’s Road in London. Read the rest of this entry »
On Monday, Harry Ferguson, 52, a former officer with MI6, the British intelligence agency, began a week-long hunger strike, as part of the Stand Fast for Justice initiative launched by the legal action charity Reprieve, in support of the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay — and, in particular, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who continues to be held despite being cleared for release by a military review board under President Bush in 2007 and by President Obama’s inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in January 2010. Others who have been hunger striking as part of the campaign include Julie Christie, the comedian Frankie Boyle, and Reprieve’s Director, Clive Stafford Smith.
Shaker is one of 86 men cleared for release by the task force but still held at Guantánamo, because of a lack of political will on the part of President Obama and obstruction by Congress, and has been part of the prison-wide hunger strike that began in February. At its peak, the hunger strike involved up to 130 of the remaining 166 prisoners. That figure has apparently fallen recently, but 37 men are still being force-fed, a painful process that medical experts condemn as torture.
Explaining his reasons for embarking on a hunger strike in solidarity with Shaker and the other prisoners, Mr. Ferguson gave a statement that ought to shame everyone in the British establishment who has colluded with the Bush and Obama administrations in the lawlessness of the last 12 years, since the 9/11 attacks. Read the rest of this entry »
Shaker Aamer Protest in London, July 18, 2013, a set on Flickr.
Now that many people have been wakened to the plight of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, through P.J. Harvey writing a song about him that has sent ripples through the music world, I hope that ongoing efforts to secure his release will attract more support in the months to come. After all, what excuse is there for people not to be outraged that he is one of 86 men cleared for release under President Bush and Obama who are still held, and that he is part of a prison-wide hunger strike to which the authorities are responding with force-feeding?
On July 18, as Parliament shut up shop for the summer, I joined campaigners from the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign and the London Guantánamo Campaign in Parliament Square, outside the Houses of Parliament, for a last vigil before the summer recess began. I have already posted a video of an interview I undertook on the day with a representative of the PCS union (the Public and Commercial Services union), but art the time I didn’t have the opportunity to make the photos I took available, and I was then derailed by a week away.
I’m posting them now to try to help keep Shaker’s story in the public eye, and also to thank the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign and the London Guantánamo Campaign for their tireless work to try and secure the closure of Guantánamo and the release of Shaker Aamer. Read the rest of this entry »
Last Thursday, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign — dedicated to securing the release from Guantánamo of the last British resident in the prison — held its final vigil outside Parliament prior to MPs’ summer recess. The campaigners had been holding lunchtime vigils on weekdays since May, and I was delighted to turn up to show my support. Please see below for a three-minute video in which I explained why the vigil was taking place, which was recorded by a representative of the PCS union.
It is, of course, outrageous that Shaker is still held, as he was cleared for release under President Bush in 2007, and again under President Obama in January 2010, along with 85 of the other 166 men still held. Opportunistic opposition to the release of prisoners by lawmakers in Congress, and shameful inaction on the part of President Obama are responsible for keeping these 86 men in Guantánamo.
Moreover, there are still no signs that any of the men will be released, even though they have been on a hunger strike to highlight their plight since February, and two months ago President Obama, responding to unparalleled criticism internationally and domestically, promised to resume releasing prisoners.
Please see below for the video, and if you like it, please feel free to share it: Read the rest of this entry »
What a disgrace the Justice Department lawyers dealing with Guantánamo are. On Wednesday, Andrew Warden, Timothy Walthall and Daniel Barish of the Civil Division’s Federal Programs Branch argued in federal court in Washington D.C. against a motion submitted on behalf of four of the prisoners involved in the prison-wide hunger strike that is nearing its sixth month, asking Judge Rosemary Collyer to order the government to stop force-feeding prisoners engaged in the hunger strike, and also to stop administering medication without the prisoners’ consent.
45 of the prisoners are currently being force-fed, and according to the government 106 of the remaining 166 prisoners are on a hunger strike. The prisoners themselves claim that around 120 of them are refusing food. Two of the four men represented in the motion are being force-fed — Ahmed Belbacha and Nabil Hadjarab, both Algerians — while the other two are taking part in the hunger strike but are not being force-fed. They are Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian.
All four were cleared for release from the prison in January 2010, by the inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established when he took office, and all but Abu Wa’el Dhiab were also cleared for release under President Bush. 86 men in total were cleared for release by Obama’s task force, but are still held. Read the rest of this entry »
Lawyers at the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, and co-counsel Jon B. Eisenberg, an attorney in Oakland, California filed a motion with the District Court in Washington D.C. on Sunday evening, on behalf of four prisoners in Guantánamo, including Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison. The motion was submitted in response to the authorities’ force-feeding and forced medication of hunger strikers engaged in a prison-wide hunger strike that will enter its sixth month on Saturday. According to the authorities, 106 of the remaining 166 prisoners are taking part in the hunger strike, protesting about their indefinite detention, but according to the prisoners themselves the total is at least 120.
The motion, available here, asks Judge Rosemary Collyer to issue a ruling to compel the government to “stop force-feeding in the prison and stop force-medicating prisoners, particularly with Reglan, a drug used by the US during the force-feeding process that when used for extended periods of time can cause severe neurological disorders, including one that mimics Parkinson’s disease,” as Reprieve put it in a press release. Please also see additional submissions by Cori Crider, Reprieve’s Strategic Director, and by Steven Miles, Professor of Medicine at the University of Minnesota, and by Stephen Xenakis, a retired brigadier general and Army medical corps officer with 28 years of active service, who is now an Adjunct Clinical Professor at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences.
Shaker Aamer is one of 86 prisoners cleared for release by an inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, appointed by President Obama, which issued its recommendations three and half years ago. The three other prisoners represented in the motion — Nabil Hadjarab and Ahmed Belbacha, both Algerians, and Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian — were also cleared for release three and a half years ago, but are still held despite President Obama’s promise to overcome restrictions imposed by Congress and resume releasing prisoners, which he made in a major speech on national security issues on May 23; in other words, nearly six weeks ago. Since that time, not a single prisoner has yet been released. Read the rest of this entry »
Tomorrow (Wednesday June 26) is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, established by the United Nations in 1997 to mark the 10th anniversary of the day that the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into force.
I have been marking this day since 2007 — also see my reports from 2009, 2010 (and here), 2011 and 2012 — and this year I note that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Member States “to step up efforts to assist all those who have suffered from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
He added, “This year is also the 25th anniversary of the Committee against Torture. This body — along with other UN human rights mechanisms such as the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and the Special Rapporteur on Torture — is vital to strengthening a victim-oriented approach that also includes a gender perspective. This effort was further strengthened by the adoption this year of a UN Human Rights Council resolution focussing on the rehabilitation of torture victims.”
He also stated, “I urge all Member States to accede to and fully implement the Convention against Torture and support the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture. Let us work together to end torture throughout the world and ensure that countries provide reparation for victims.” Read the rest of this entry »
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