Torture Accountability in Canada: After Payments to Three Men Tortured in Syria, Former Guantánamo Prisoner Djamel Ameziane Also Seeks Damages

Abdullah Almalki (center), with Muayyed Nureddin (left) and Ahmad El Maati (right) at a news conference in Ottawa in October 2007 (Photo: Reuters).Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

There was some very welcome news from Canada last week, when three Canadian citizens — Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin — were paid $31.25 million (around $25m US dollars, or £18.7m) by the Canadian government as compensation for the government’s key role, via the spy agency CSIS (the Canadian Security Intelligence Service) and RCMP (the Royal Canadian Mounted Police), in arranging for them to be imprisoned and tortured in Syria between 2001 and 2003, when they were wrongly suspected of having some involvement with terrorism.

As the Toronto Star explained on October 26, “The payout was kept secret until this month and is part of a legal settlement that was first reported by the Star in February and announced by the Liberal government weeks later.”

The Star added, “The resolution and accompanying government apology put an end to a nine-year court battle for compensation that has been demanded since 2008,” when then-Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci concluded, in a report on their cases, that “Canadian agents labelled the men Islamic extremists and shared information with other countries without proper precautions about its unreliability.” Read the rest of this entry »

Labour’s Dilemma: What Should Be Done with the 66 MPs Who Voted with the Tories to Approve Airstrikes in Syria?

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn addresses the House of Commons during the day-long debate about whether or not to approve airstrikes in Syria on December 2, 2015, which ended up with the House supporting the government's proposals. Given a free vote, 66 Labour MPs voted with the government.So the warmongers are happy now, as our planes began bombing Syria within hours of Wednesday’s vote in the House of Commons, as civilians die, because they always do, and as we’re told that this is the start of years of war. What a shame and a disgrace. This century, this millennium, since the trigger of 9/11, which Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda intended to destabilise us, and to drag us into wars we couldn’t win, we have been mired in disaster in Afghanistan and we plumbed the depths in Iraq, and, when the Labour government gave way to the Tory-led coalition government, and, in turn, the Tories alone, in May’s particularly depressing General Election, we got involved in the destruction of Libya and, after a burst of sanity in 2013, when Parliament voted against bombing Syria, we got back in the game with bombing against Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq, which has now been extended to Syria.

Wars of choice, for the whole of this time, so that my son, who is 16 in two weeks, doesn’t remember a time when we weren’t at war. My son was just one year old when we enthusiastically joined the Bush administration’s invasion of Afghanistan, and hideously overstayed our welcome after toppling the Taliban. My son was three when we illegally invaded Iraq, an invasion in which our Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was not Bush’s poodle, as many in the UK think, but was the key ally who gave legitimacy to Bush’s lawless plans.

And these endless wars? They are now longer in duration than the two World Wars combined, and yet they have never had more than the faintest trace of justification; only, arguably, in Afghanistan, at the beginning, although I didn’t agree with that particular invasion either, as wars without proper plans — attributes which all these wars share — are a recipe for disaster. And here we are, 14 years later, with no end in sight, bombing more civilians in Syria. Read the rest of this entry »

As the Death of Three-Year Old Syrian Refugee Aylan Kurdi Appals All Decent People, Please Sign the E-Petition Asking the UK Government to Accept More Refugees

Aylan Kurdi, the three-year old Syrian boy whose body washed up on Bodrum beach in Turkey. The photo, understandably, went viral and has led to calls for greater support for refugees in Europe, and particularly in the UK, which, by far, has failed to match German generosity.Please sign and share this e-petition to the British government, calling for more asylum seekers to be accepted into the country, as the UK tries to turn its back on this huge humanitarian crisis.

Amazingly, it has gone from 27,000 signatures last night to over 112,000 signatures this morning, making it eligible for a Parliamentary debate. Please keep signing and sharing it, however, so that the government knows the depth of feeling in this country. UPDATE 4pm: It has now reached 200,000 signatures.

***** 

I’m not posting the photo above of the dead body of three-year old Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi for sensationalist reasons, but simply because, when it went viral yesterday, it did so because millions of people identified with it, whether they were parents or not.

I am a parent. My son is 15 years old, but I remember vividly when he was three, and when I saw, yesterday, the photo of Aylan’s lifeless body washed up on Bodrum beach in Turkey, I felt his loss viscerally.

I was at that beach just two weeks ago, aware that refugees from Syria were trying to make their way to Europe via the Greek islands, and aware that some of them were dying in search of a new life. Read the rest of this entry »

Charges Against Moazzam Begg Dropped; Why Was He Ever Held in the First Place?

This morning, at the Old Bailey, the Crown Prosecution Service dropped all charges against Moazzam Begg, the former Guantánamo prisoner, who had been arrested in February on the basis of an alleged involvement in terrorism relating to visits he had made to Syria in 2012.

As I explained in an article at the time, “The Suspicious Arrest of Former Guantánamo Prisoner Moazzam Begg,” and in a radio interview with the US reporter Andrea Sears, it was impossible to believe that Begg, one of the most scrutinised Muslims in the UK, would have engaged in any activities that could be construed as terrorism.

He had indeed visited Syria, but had been in search of information relating to the US torture program that the Syrian government undertook on America’s behalf from 2002 onwards. Moreover, after his first visit in the summer of 2012, and before his second and last visit in December, the UK security services had interviewed him and had not attempted to prevent him from underraking his second visit. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses the Arrest of Former Guantánamo Prisoner Moazzam Begg with Andrea Sears

Yesterday evening, in my article, “The Suspicious Arrest of Former Guantánamo Prisoner Moazzam Begg,” I mentioned how I had just been interviewed by the journalist Andrea Sears in New York. I spoke to Andrea about the arrest of Moazzam Begg, discussing and expanding upon my interpretation of the story as later published in my article.

The show, 11 minutes in length, is here (or via the Left Voices website here), and I hope you have time to listen to it, and to share it if you find it useful. As I explained, “it’s implausible to me that a man so well known and obviously under scrutiny … is going to become mixed up in anything that could be construed legitimately as terrorism, because that would make him such an obvious target of the British government.”

I also spoke about how profoundly alarming it is that Theresa May, the British home secretary, has taken upon herself the power to strip British citizens of their citizenship — and in some cases then letting the US know where these people are so that they can be killed in drone strikes — if she suspects that they are somehow involved in terrorism, even though this involves no due process or objective scrutiny, and even though, as I also pointed out, both the British and American governments have an extremely poor record when it comes to identifying people who are genuinely involved in terrorism, as opposed to, say, humanitarian aid or missionary work, as is evident from the cases of numerous men held at Guantánamo. Read the rest of this entry »

The Suspicious Arrest of Former Guantánamo Prisoner Moazzam Begg

A recent photo of former Guantanamo prisoner Moazzam Begg.I received the news yesterday that former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg had been arrested when I was sent an email from Juliet Spare, a journalist working for the Voice of Russia, asking me for a short interview by phone. Once alerted to it, I checked out the coverage (mainly, at that point, the BBC), and spoke to her for a show that was broadcast yesterday, but is not available online, explaining how, to me, it made no sense that, with three other people, he had been “detained on suspicion of attending a terrorist training camp and facilitating terrorism overseas,” as the BBC put it, for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, while Moazzam was held by the US, from January 2002 to January 2005, there was never any credible evidence that he was involved with terrorism in any way, and this is an analysis that I endorse from my reading of his autobiography, Enemy Combatant, and from my own knowledge of Moazzam, based on meeting him on several occasions over the years at events involving Guantánamo.

Secondly, Moazzam must be one of the most scrutinised Muslims in the UK, so — even without the proviso that he has no track record of being a terrorist sympathiser —  it seems ridiculous to me that he would get involved with anything that could be construed as terrorism, as it would obviously cause him trouble back in the UK. Moazzam has, on a few occasions since his passport was first returned to him after Guantánamo, spoken to me about his annoyance at being permanently harassed when he left or returned to the UK, but, while this was clearly irritating — and a form of harassment — it also meant that he was aware that he was permanently under scrutiny. Read the rest of this entry »

The Syrian People’s Revolution, One Year On: Torture, Disappearances and Exile

A year ago, when the Arab Spring began — or, as the events were then called, the revolutionary movements in the Middle East (which had already toppled two western-backed dictators in Tunisia and Egypt) — I remember being surprised, and also worried, when Syrian activists held a “Day of Rage” in Damascus on March 15, and, the day after, other protestors in Damascus — mostly well-established human rights activists — called for the release from prison of other human rights activists, many of whom had been held for many years.

I was surprised, because Syria had a reputation for almost unparalleled brutality, torture and disappearances, and worried because I feared the authorities’ response, and sure enough, many of the human rights activists were imprisoned after their protest, although most — though not all — were soon released. However, almost immediately it became apparent that there was another front to Syria’s revolutionary impulses, which was not focused on the capital, but on the town of Daraa, with a population of nearly 100,000, which is in the south east of Syria, near the border with Jordan.

There, a group of schoolchildren had scrawled graffiti on the walls of their school, which stated, “The people want the overthrow of the regime.” The boys, aged between 10 and 15, were taken away by President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces, and tortured and abused, but instead of quelling revolt, the torture of the children, and the subsequent killing of civilians at protests after visits to the mosque on Fridays, and then at funerals for those killed, spread to other towns and cities as the weeks rolled by. Read the rest of this entry »

With 5000 Dead in Syria, Channel 4 Exposes President Al-Assad’s Horrendous Torture Program

Back in March, when, in my article, “Revolution in the Middle East: Brave Protestors in Syria Call for Freedom,” I picked up on reports of protests in Damascus, firstly by those inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, and then by supporters and relatives of 21 jailed human rights activists (many of whom were then seized and imprisoned themselves), I praised their bravery, because the Syrian regime has a long history of violently suppressing dissent.

This was something that was more than abstract to me, because, via a good friend, who is Syrian, i had been given an insight into the use of torture by the al-Assad regime, and had also been horrified by the use of torture on prisoners in the Bush administration’s “war on terror” — and by the fact that President Bush had sent prisoners to Syria for torture, and the Canadian government had also arranged for its own citizens to be seized and tortured.

After this initial protests in Damascus, the ripples of dissent in Syria spread rapidly, leading to major unrest in the southern city of Dara’a, where, as I noted, “protests about the arrest of a group of 15 schoolchildren who had dared to scrawl graffiti on a wall explaining that ‘the people want the overthrow of the regime’ escalated into something far more grave, when the security services opened fire, killing three protestors in cold blood. Dubbed ‘Dignity Friday’ by protestors, who had been using social networking sites to coordinate their activities, the clampdown in Dara’a immediately echoed throughout the region, where other protests had been taking place, and the next day, as the Guardian explained, “a much larger, angrier crowd — estimated to number as many as 20,000 — turned out for the burial of the previous days’ victims.” Read the rest of this entry »

“Syria: Inside the Secret Revolution” – Harrowing BBC Documentary Tells the Truth About Bashar Al-Assad’s Brutality

This week, the BBC broadcast a compelling “Panorama” programme about Syria (available below via YouTube, but also available here via iPlayer), in which reporter Jane Corbin, tracing the roots of the people’s uprising against the dictatorship of President Bashar al-Assad, focused on Deraa, the town of 80,000 inhabitants in the south of Syria where, after intellectuals and human rights activists began protesting in Damascus in mid-March (followed by many arrests), the townspeople of Deraa took over the struggle against the Assad regime, protesting about how some of their children were arrested and tortured for two weeks after scribbling graffiti critical of the regime.

The film includes shocking footage taken in Deraa by local activists and journalists, breaking through the almost total ban on foreign journalists, some of which has never been shown before, and it reveals how, from the beginning, the regime responded to peaceful protests with random killings by snipers, designed to quell dissent through fear. The footage also reveals how the security forces targeted medical staff inside ambulances, to prevent them from treating the wounded, and also contains other distressing footage from March and April, when the security forces roamed Deraa, seizing people and taking them away — to be tortured, and often killed.

As the protests spread to other towns, the violence increased, and on April 25, Deraa was besieged by the Syrian army, and many more protestors — men, women and children — were killed, both in the town, and amongst supporters from nearby towns who tried to break the blockade and deliver supplies. Others — including children — were taken away and tortured, as happened with 13-year old Hamza al-Khateeb, and it is estimated that across Syria over a hundred children have been killed by the army and the security services since March. Read the rest of this entry »

The Guantánamo Files: An Archive of Articles — Part Nine, April to June 2011

The Guantanamo Files

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For over five years, I have been researching and writing about Guantánamo and the 779 men (and boys) held there over the last nine and a half years, first through my book The Guantánamo Files, and, since May 2007, as a full-time independent investigative journalist. For nearly three years, I focused on the crimes of the Bush administration and, since January 2009, I have turned my attention to the failures of the Obama administration to thoroughly repudiate those crimes and to hold anyone accountable for them, and, increasingly, on President Obama’s failure to charge or release prisoners, and to show any sign that Guantánamo will eventually be closed.

My intention, all along, has been to bring the men to life through their stories, dispelling the Bush administration’s rhetoric about the prison holding “the worst of the worst,” and demonstrating how, instead, the majority of the prisoners were either innocent men, seized by the US military’s allies at a time when bounty payments were widespread, or recruits for the Taliban, who had been encouraged by supporters in their homelands to help the Taliban in a long-running inter-Muslim civil war (with the Northern Alliance), which began long before the 9/11 attacks and, for the most part, had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or international terrorism. As I explained in the introduction to my four-part Definitive Prisoner List (updated on June 1 this year), I remain convinced, through detailed research, through comments from insiders with knowledge of Guantánamo, and, most recently, through an analysis of classified military documents released by WikiLeaks, that “at least 93 percent of the 779 men and boys imprisoned in total” had no involvement with terrorism. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. 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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