No one who has spent any time studying and writing about Guantánamo, as I have, could fail to realize that, although the terrible innovation of Guantánamo is indefinite detention without charge or trial, its orange jumpsuits, and the perceived normality of solitary confinement as standard operating procedure, arrived at the prison directly from America’s domestic prison system — where there are 2.2 million prisoners (and almost 7 million people under correctional supervision (including probation and parole), and up to 100,000 prisoners are subjected to solitary confinement at any one time. Most harrowingly, many thousands of these prisoners are subjected to solitary confinement not as occasional punishment, but as a policy, and have spent years, or even decades without any human contact.
As Kevin Gosztola explained in July 2011, in an article for FireDogLake, “40 states and the federal government have supermax prisons holding upwards of 25,000 inmates. Tens of thousands more are held in solitary confinement in lockdown units within other prisons and jails. There’s no up-to-date nationwide count, but according to best estimates, there are at least 75,000 and perhaps more than 100,000 prisoners in solitary confinement on any given day in America.”
Over the years, I have endeavored to cover the horrors of solitary confinement in America’s prisons. In December 2010, I joined a call for a worldwide ban on the use of solitary confinement, and in 2011 I covered the hunger strikes that began in California’s notorious Pelican Bay facility — see here, here, here and here. I also cross-posted a hugely important article about long-term solitary confinement, “Hellhole,” written by Atul Gawande for the New Yorker in 2009, and in 2012 reported on calls by Professor Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, for an end to the use of solitary confinement, and an appeal to the UN by Pelican Bay prisoners. Read the rest of this entry »
Not content with having the largest domestic prison population in the world, both in numbers and as a percentage of the total population, the US also imports prisoners from other countries, at vast expense.
Last week, five men were extradited to the US from the UK to face charges relating to their alleged involvement with terrorism. The men’s extradition was supposed to have been made into a straightforward matter by the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who, in 2003, approved the US-UK Extradition Treaty, which purportedly allows prisoners to be extradited without the need for any evidence to be provided.
However, there have been sustained legal challenges to the treaty, with the result that, of the five men extradited last week, two British nationals, Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan, had been held without charge or trial in the UK for eight and six years respectively, and two foreign nationals, Adel Abdel Bary and Khaled al-Fawwaz, had been held without charge or trial since 1998, as their lawyers tried to prevent their extradition. The fifth man, Abu Hamza al-Masri, was the only one to have been imprisoned in the UK after a trial. Convicted in 2006, he was given a seven-year sentence. Read the rest of this entry »
Last Monday, the long struggle of five alleged “terror suspects” against their extradition to the US — under the much-criticised US-UK Extradition Treaty of 2003 — was struck an apparently fatal blow when the European Court of Human Rights refused to hear an appeal they had submitted after the Court first approved their extradition in April. The five men are Babar Ahmad, Syed Talha Ahsan, Mustafa Kamel Mustafa (better known as Abu Hamza al-Masri), Khaled al-Fawwaz and Adel Abdel Bary.
The decision is a blow to human rights defenders, who rightly believe that conditions in US Supermax prisons, where the men would end up, constitute torture, and that they have no chance of receiving a fair trial, as almost all trials involving Muslims accused of terrorism, or providing support to terrorism, end in convictions. It also ignores criticism of the treaty by British MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee, who, in March, criticised the Home Office for “failing to publish the evidence” that lay behind a review of the treaty, undertaken by Sir Scott Baker for the home secretary Teresa May, which, as the Independent put it, found that “it was balanced and there was no basis to see it as ‘unfair or oppressive.’” In contrast, the committee said it had “‘serious misgivings’ about some aspects of the US-UK arrangements and recommended the Government renegotiate the treaty.”
In response to the ruling, two of the men, Abu Hamza and Khaled al-Fawwaz, have launched immediate legal challenges, and in the cases of two others, Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan, a businessman, Karl Watkin, has launched a private prosecution to try to prevent their extradition, arguing that they should be tried in the UK because their alleged crime — hosting a pro-jihad website — took place in Britain. The US government argues that it has the right to try the two men, because one of the servers was located in the US. Read the rest of this entry »
Parks, Water and Dreams: A Journey from Surrey Quays to Central London, a set on Flickr.
On July 19, 2012, I had been invited to The Arts Catalyst, on Clerkenwell Road, in London EC1, to speak at an event marking the sixth anniversary of the arrest of Talha Ahsan, a British citizen and a Londoner, who has been held without charge or trial ever since, while fighting extradition to the US — an unjust situation that I have also written about here and here. Please also see this photo of me wearing an “Extradite Me, I’m British” T-shirt, to highlight the problems with the US-UK Extradition Treaty.
As I have become obsessed with cycling lately, both to keep fit and to chronicle the whole of London by bike (an ongoing project that I began three months ago) and, just as importantly, to feed my eyes and my brain and to allow my mind to roam free after six years of being cooped up writing about Guantánamo, I decided to cycle to the event. This journey took me primarily through Rotherhithe, the peninsula and area of the Borough of Southwark that was formerly made up almost entirely of docks — the Surrey Commercial Docks — until the demise of London’s docks over 40 years ago. As part of the regeneration of the former Docklands areas under Margaret Thatcher, Butler’s Wharf and Shad Thames near Tower Bridge, and Limehouse, Wapping and the Isle of Dogs were all regenerated, as were the docks of Rotherhithe. Read the rest of this entry »
The Olympic Torch in Lewisham, a set on Flickr.
So the time is nearly upon us. The Olympic Games — corporate, militarised, jingoistic — begin on Friday, and, after a plague of disasters in recent weeks, everything appears to be running relatively smoothly on the last lap. This morning I popped down the hill with my family, to Ladywell Leisure Centre, on the main road between Lewisham and Catford, to watch the Olympic torch pass by, and to watch those watching.
Despite the early hour — the torch passed by just after 8am — there were hundreds of people present for the passage of the torch itself, and of the corporate sponsors’ vehicles — in this case, those of Coca-Cola and Lloyds TSB, although sadly no one asked me about my T-shirt, which features a Union Jack and the message, “Extradite Me, I’m British.” Available here (for just £9), the shirts were created to publicise the plight of Talha Ahsan, Babar Ahmad, Gary McKinnon and Richard O’Dwyer, who face extradition to the United States under the US-UK Extradiiton Treaty of 2003, a creation of Tony Blair’s government that allows British citizens to be spirited away to the US — and its out-of-control judicial system — without the US having to provide any evidence, even if the alleged crimes took place in the UK, and even if the alleged crimes are not crimes in the UK. See here, here, here and here for further information.
Nevertheless, despite the concerted effort to focus on the supposedly positive sporting message of the Games, the stink caused by the recent scandals still lingers. It can be noted with some sense of satisfaction that G4S, the inept security firm, has done permanent damage to the cynical corporate — and governmental – mantra that “private is best” by failing to employ enough security, despite being paid £284 million to do so. Read the rest of this entry »
On Thursday, I’ll be taking part in an event in London to raise awareness of the plight of Talha Ahsan, a British citizen, and a poet who suffers from Asberger’s Syndrome. Talha, who also gained a first class honours degree in Arabic from SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies, part of the University of London), planned to become a librarian, but has been imprisoned for six years without charge or trial in the UK, while pursuing legal challenges to prevent his proposed extradition to the US. The event is taking place on the sixth anniversary of his arrest at his home, on July 19, 2006.
This will be my second appearance at an event in support of Talha. Two weeks ago, I took part in a moving event in Bethnal Green, in East London, The event in Bethnal Green, at the premises of the arts organisation no.w.here, involved a screening of the new documentary film, “Extradition,” directed by Turab Shah, which tells the stories of Talha Ahsan and also of Babar Ahmad, imprisoned for eight years without charge or trial, who also faces extradition to the US. The film features interviews with the human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce, the playwright Avaes Mohammad, the fathers of Babar and Talha, and Talha’s brother Hamja, all framed by Talha’s prison poetry, and at the event on July 4, there was a palpable feeling that, within days, Talha and Babar might find their last appeal to the European Court of Human Rights turned down, leading to their imminent extradition to the US — and solitary confinement in a Supermax prison.
Fortunately, the date that a decision on the appeal was to be made — July 10 — has now been extended to September, allowing campaigners some more time to try to persuade the British government to intervene. Talha and Babar Ahmad are accused of hosting a website from 1997 to 2004 promoting jihad in countries where Muslims faced oppression, but it is difficult to see what justification there is for extraditing them to the US, where a biased judicial system will probably sentence them to decades in solitary confinement, for two particular reasons. Read the rest of this entry »
Postscript July 6: I have just been informed that Talha and Babar’s lawyers have asked people NOT to send letters to the European Court of Human Rights, as they are submitting their own formal appeal. New campaigning tools will be announced soon.
As part of the campaign to prevent the extradition to the US of Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad — who, along with others, including Richard O’Dwyer and Gary McKinnon — face extradition to the US under the terms of the much-criticised US-UK Extradition Treaty, Talha’s brother Hamja has been working flat-out to promote a new documentary film, “Extradition,” which tells the stories of his brother and of Babar Ahmad, with screenings up and down the country. Directed by Turab Shah, the film features interviews with the human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce, the playwright Avaes Mohammad, the fathers of Babar and Talha, and Talha’s brother Hamja, all framed by Talha’s prison poetry.
On Wednesday July 4, and later in the month, I will be taking part in Q&A sessions following screenings in London, and I also want to alert readers in the London area to other screenings this week, on Friday July 6 and Saturday July 7.
As I explained in an article two weeks ago, promoting a meeting in the House of Commons to discuss the US-UK Extradition Treaty, it has been “a source of consternation since its establishment in 2003, as it allows British citizens to be extradited to the US for the flimsiest of reasons, where they will face a legal system that is, in many ways, out of control, in which cases that involve activities that can be described as providing material support for terrorism, for example, attract horrendously long sentences.” Read the rest of this entry »
Tomorrow, Wednesday, June 20, 2012, there is a meeting in the House of Commons to discuss the US-UK Extradition Treaty, a source of consternation since its establishment in 2003, as it allows British citizens to be extradited to the US for the flimsiest of reasons, where they will face a legal system that is, in many ways, out of control, in which cases that involve activities that can be described as providing material support for terrorism, for example, attract horrendously long sentences.
The meeting, in Committee Room 10, begins at 6 pm, and lasts until 8 pm, and features the following speakers:
Caroline Lucas MP
John Hemming MP
Sadiq Khan MP (Shadow Justice Secretary)
David Bermingham (Natwest Three)
Sir Iqbal Sacranie
Those facing extradition, whose cases will be discussed, are Talha Ahsan, Babar Ahmad, Gary McKinnon and Richard O’Dwyer. I discussed their cases back in April, after Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad had their appeal to the European Court of Human Rights turned down, and I recommend that article for anyone who wants to know more. Briefly, however, none of the men have ever visited the US, and summaries of their cases are as follows: Talha Ahsan is a poet and writer with Asperger’s syndrome who has been detained for six years without charge or trial; Babar Ahmad has been detained without charge or trial for eight years, longer than any other British citizen in modern British history (and both men are accused of alleged crimes involving web-based militant activity); Gary McKinnon, who also has Asperger’s Syndrome, is accused of hacking into US agency websites ten years ago and has been fighting extradition ever since; and Richard O’Dwyer is accused of breaching US copyright laws, despite the fact that what he is accused of does not constitute a crime in the UK. Read the rest of this entry »
Critics of the European Court of Human Rights, which, in February, refused to allow the UK to deport the Muslim cleric Abu Qatada to Jordan, were delighted when, on April 10, the court turned down an appeal by five other men who were seeking to prevent their extradition to the US, on the grounds that their human rights would be violated if they were sent to the US to stand trial, However, as those critics are generally driven by anti-Islamic “war on terror” hysteria and disdain for the European Court and for the European Convention on Human Rights — and especially the legislation designed to prevent torture and to ensure fair trials — their delight is not something that should necessarily be emulated or encouraged.
The five men are Abu Hamza, Babar Ahmad, Syed Talha Ahsan, Adel Abdel Bary and Khaled al-Fawwaz. As the Guardian described it, the European judges “decided they needed more information about the mental health” of a sixth man, Haroon Aswat, an aide to Abu Hamza who has suffered such a precipitous decline in is mental health that he has been been held in Broadmoor psychiatric hospital, before reaching a decision on him.
Of the five, Abu Hamza (or Abu Hamza al-Masri), whose real name is Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, is the best known, or perhaps the most notorious — a half-blind, hook-handed firebrand preacher, born in Egypt but a British citizen for nearly 30 years, who was tried, convicted and given a seven-year sentence in 2006 for charges of soliciting to murder, and other charges related to “stirring up racial hatred.” Read the rest of this entry »
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