New Life in Uruguay for Six Former Guantánamo Prisoners

Former Guantanamo prisoners released in Uruguay: from left to right, Ali Hussein al-Shaaban, Ahmed Adnan Ahjam and Abdelhadi Omar Mahmoud Faraj (all Syrians), Tunisian Abdul Bin Muhammad Abbas Ouerghi (aka Ourgy) and Palestinian Mohammed Abdullah Taha Mattan, pose for a picture after lunch at a house in Canelones department, near Montevideo on December 14, 2014 (Photo: Pablo Porciuncula, AFP/Getty Images).Good news from Uruguay, where five of the six men released from Guantánamo on December 7 and given new lives in Montevideo have been photographed out and about in the city. From left to right, in the photo, they are: Ali Hussein al-Shaaban, Ahmed Adnan Ahjam and Abdelhadi Omar Faraj (all Syrians), Tunisian Abdul Bin Muhammad Abbas Ouerghi (aka Ourgy) and Palestinian Mohammed Abdullah Taha Mattan, photographed by Pablo Porciuncula, after eating lunch at a house in Canelones department, near Montevideo on December 14. See more photos here.

The sixth man, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, the Syrian who became confined to a wheelchair whilst at Guantánamo, had been on a hunger strike and had challenged the US authorities in the courts, has not yet been seen publicly, but is apparently recovering from his long ordeal. His lawyer, Cori Crider of Reprieve, commented that he “had difficulty believing he would ever be released until he boarded the plane out of the US military base,” as the Guardian put it. Crider said, “You inhale the air for the first time as a free man and only then it’s real. It’s going to take some time for him to come down from his hunger strike, he’s six foot five and only weighs about 148 pounds, he’s extremely thin, in pain, emaciated and still confined to a wheelchair.”

Immediately after their arrival, the Associated Press reported that Michael Mone, Ali al-Shaaban’s Boston-based lawyer, said that, with the exception of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, “The other men are all up on their feet. They have big smiles on their faces and they are very happy to be in Uruguay after 12 plus years of incarceration.” As the AP described it, Mone was “accustomed to his client being shackled and strictly monitored during meetings in Guantánamo,” and said it was “an emotional experience to see al-Shaaban experiencing freedom for the first time in years.” The AP also reported that al-Shaaban “spoke by phone with his parents, who are in a refugee camp in a country Mone declined to identify, fleeing the turmoil of their homeland.” Read the rest of this entry »

Why Guantánamo Mustn’t Be Forgotten in the Fallout from the CIA Torture Report

Anti-torture protestors outside the White House in May 2009, after President Obama's first 100 days in office.I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

It’s a week now since the 500-page executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,700-page report into the post-9/11 CIA torture program was published, and here at “Close Guantánamo,” we are concerned that (a) the necessary calls for accountability will fall silent as the days and weeks pass; and (b) that people will not be aware that the use of torture was not confined solely to the CIA’s “black sites,” and the specific program investigated by the Senate Committee, and that it was a key element of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 detention program — in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and in Guantánamo, where elements of the current operations can still be defined as torture.

The Senate Committee report contains new information, of course — much of it genuinely harrowing — but journalists and researchers uncovered much of the program over the last ten years, and that body of work — some of which I referred to in my article about the torture report for Al-Jazeera last week — will continue to be of great relevance as the executive summary is analyzed, and, hopefully, as the full report is eventually made public.

Mainly, though, as I mentioned in the introduction to this article, it is crucial that the news cycle is not allowed to move on without an insistence that there be accountability. The Senate report chronicles crimes, authorized at the highest levels of the Bush administration, implemented by the CIA and two outside contractors, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who had worked for a military program designed to train soldiers how to resist torture if captured, but who had no real-life experience of interrogations, or any knowledge of Al-Qaeda or the individuals involved (see Vice News’ extraordinary interview with Mitchell here). Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses the Senate Torture Report, Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker with Scott Horton and Pippa Jones

Andy Worthington and Joanne MacInnes of We Stand With Shaker with music legend Roger Waters (ex-Pink Floyd) at the launch of the campaign outside the Houses of Parliament on November 24, 2014 (Photo: Stefano Massimo).As I mentioned yesterday when I posted two videos of TV coverage of the We Stand With Shaker campaign, which aims to secure the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, it’s been a busy three-week period — firstly with the launch of the campaign outside Parliament on November 24, and then, last week, with the release of our short film for Shaker for Human Rights Day, featuring Juliet Stevenson and David Morrissey, reading from Shaker’s Declaration of No Human Rights, which he wrote in Guantánamo in response to the US betrayal of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and also, last Tuesday, with the release of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the CIA torture program, which I wrote about here for Al-Jazeera.

Last week I undertook a couple of radio interviews to discuss all of these issues, speaking for on the Scott Horton Show, with the Texas-based interviewer with whom I have been talking about the horrors of Guantánamo, executive overreach, arbitrary dentition and torture for more than seven years — a duration of time that has probably come as a surprise to both of us.

Our latest encounter — 23 minutes in total — is here, and I hope you have time to listen to it.

On Friday, I spoke to British ex-pat Pippa Jones, for her show on Talk Radio Europe. Pippa and I have spoken before — although we don’t have quite the history that Scott and I have. It was a pleasure to talk to Pippa as well — about the torture report and We Stand With Shaker — and our 20-minute interview is here. The interview begins at about 7:45 and runs through to 28:15. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: We Stand With Shaker – Andy Worthington on RT, and the Islam Channel on the Human Rights Day Event with Mark Rylance and Vanessa Redgrave

Mark Rylance (C), Vanessa Redgrave (R) and Joanne MacInnes (L) of We Stand With Shaker read out from Shaker Aamer's Declaration of No Human Rights, written in Guantanamo, in Parliament Square on Human Rights Day, December 10, 2014 (Photo: Andy Worthington).What a busy three weeks it has been — first with the launch of the We Stand With Shaker campaign outside Parliament on November 24, and then, this week, with the release of our short film for Shaker for Human Rights Day (featuring Juliet Stevenson and David Morrissey) and, rather tending to overshadow everything else, the release of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into CIA torture; in other words, the report examining — and condemning — the Bush administration’s torture program.

My first thoughts about that report are here, in an article for Al-Jazeera, entitled, “Punishment, not apology after CIA torture report,” which I’m glad to say has had over 6200 likes so far.

In addition, the We Stand With Shaker campaign continues to make waves. Just as revulsion at the torture inflicted in the “war on terror” seems to have become somewhat fashionable, so the unjust imprisonment of Shaker Aamer is awakening indignation within the British establishment. This week the Daily Mail got on board, calling for Shaker’s release from its front page!

Below I’m posting a short interview I did on RT, on the day of the launch, which was only made available a few days ago, but which, I believe, captures well Shaker’s plight and the unjustifiable nature of his ongoing imprisonment: Read the rest of this entry »

Quarterly Fundraiser: Still Seeking $2000 (£1200) to Support My Work on Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer and Torture

Andy Worthington (R) with the actor-director Mark Rylance (L) and Joanne MacInnes (C) during an event for Shaker Aamer in Parliament Square on December 10, 2014 as part of the We Stand With Shaker campaign (Photo: Benedick Tranchell).Please support my work!

Dear friends and supporters,

Can you help to support my work on Guantánamo and torture — including the case of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison?

My work — my writing, my campaigning, my media appearances and personal appearances — is largely unfunded: or, to put it another way, is only funded if you, my readers and supporters, provide donations to support me.

If you can help out at all, please click on the “Donate” button above to donate via PayPal (and I should add that you don’t need to be a PayPal member to use PayPal). Read the rest of this entry »

Prosecutions Now! Please Read My New Article for Al-Jazeera About the Release of the Senate Torture Report

A screenshot of Andy Worthington's Al-Jazeera article about the CIA torture program, published on December 10, 2014.Dear friends and supporters,

I hope you have time to read my new article for Al-Jazeera English, “Punishment, not apology after CIA torture report” looking at yesterday’s release of the 500-page executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,700-page report into the CIA’s “Detention and Interrogation Program,” which took five years to complete, and cost $40m; or, in other words, the release of the summary of the Committee’s report about the Bush administration’s torture program, as run by the CIA.

In the article, I run through the history of the secretive program and how knowledge of it became public, from 2004 onwards (and including a mention of the report on secret detention for the UN in 2010, on which I was the lead writer and researcher), and I also look at a few of the genuinely shocking stories that emerge from the executive summary, some of which are shocking even for those of us who have spent years — in my case nearly nine years — researching and writing about the torture program.

I remain worried, however, that the Committee’s important work will be swept under the carpet, and that no one will be held accountable — by which I don’t just mean CIA officials, and James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the former SERE psychologists who designed the program (and earned $81m as a result!), as much as those who gave them their orders in the first place; namely, President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, and the various lawyers around them — David Addington, William J. Haynes II, John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales, for example — who did so much to initiate the torture program and to attempt to justify it. Read the rest of this entry »

UN Says Force-Feeding at Guantánamo Constitutes Ill-Treatment in Violation of the Convention Against Torture

A powerful image from Witness Against Torture in the US.I’ve been so busy lately with the launch of We Stand With Shaker, the new campaign to secure the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, that I haven’t had time to write anything — until now — about the United States’ recent appearance before the United Nations Committee Against Torture to explain its position on the torture and ill-treatment of prisoners in its custody.

The session — which took place on November 12 and 13, and was the first US report to the Committee Against Torture since 2006, when George W. Bush was president — led to numerous criticisms in the Committee’s response, adopted on November 20; in the Guardian‘s words, of “indefinite detention without trial; force-feeding of Guantánamo prisoners; the holding of asylum seekers in prison-like facilities; widespread use of solitary confinement; excessive use of force and brutality by police; shootings of unarmed black individuals; and cruel and inhumane executions.”

The Committee was also concerned about the US record on torture, expressing “its grave concern over the extraordinary rendition, secret detention and interrogation programme operated by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) between 2001 and 2008, which involved numerous human rights violations, including torture, ill-treatment and enforced disappearance of persons suspected of involvement in terrorism-related crimes” — concerns expressed in a 2010 UN report about secret detention on which I was the lead author (and also see here, here and here) — and reminded the US about “the absolute prohibition of torture reflected in article 2, paragraph 2, of the Convention [Against Torture], stating that ‘no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.'” The Committee also called for the long-delayed Senate Intelligence Committee torture report — or, more accurately, its executive summary — to be issued without further delay. Read the rest of this entry »

UK Human Rights Groups Dismiss Rendition and Torture Inquiry as a Whitewash

An image of torture.Nine human rights groups in the UK are boycotting the official British inquiry into the treatment of “detainees” in the “war on terror” and the UK’s involvement in rendition, “grievously undermining the controversial inquiry,” as the Guardian described it.

The nine groups, who have written a critical letter to Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, stating that they “do not propose to play a substantive role in the conduct of [the] inquiry,” are Amnesty International, the AIRE Centre (Advice on Individual Rights in Europe), Cage (formerly Cageprisoners), Freedom from Torture (formerly the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture), JUSTICE, Liberty, Redress, Reprieve and Rights Watch (UK).

Britain’s treatment of prisoners and its involvement in rendition was a matter of concern to Conservative MP William Hague when he was the shadow foreign secretary, prior to the Tories forming a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats in May 2010. Hague seemed genuinely appalled by what had taken place since 9/11 — a litany of broken laws and human rights abuses, including, most noticeably, the torture of Binyam Mohamed, whose case had reached the High Court in 2008, causing embarrassment to both the UK and US governments. Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer’s Universal Declaration of No Human Rights, Part of Vice’s Compelling New Feature on Guantánamo

An edited version of the banner for Vice's important feature on Guantanamo, "Behind the Bars: Guantanamo Bay," published on November 10, 2014. Congratulations to Vice, which describes itself as “an ever-expanding galaxy of immersive, investigative, uncomfortable, and occasionally uncouth journalism,” who have shown up the mainstream media by publishing a major feature on November 10, “Behind the Bars: Guantánamo Bay,” consisting of 18 articles published simultaneously, all of which are about Guantánamo — some by Guantánamo prisoners themselves, as made available by their lawyers (particularly at Reprieve, the legal action charity), others by former personnel at the prison, and others by journalists. “Behind the Bars” is a new series, with future features focusing on prisoners in the UK, Russia and beyond.

Following an introduction by Vice’s Global Editor, Alex Miller, there are five articles by three prisoners, as follows:

  • The Declaration of No Human Rights” (cross-posted below) and “Colonel John Bogdan Has No Nose” by Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, long cleared for release but still held. In the second of these articles, Shaker focuses on Guantánamo’s recently retired warden, who oversaw a period of particular turmoil at the prison; in particular, the prison-wide hunger strike last year that finally awakened widespread outrage domestically and internationally about the plight of the prisoners.
  • What Happens When I Try to Give My Guantánamo Guards Presents” and “An Obituary for My Friend, Adnan Abdul Latif” by Emad Hassan, a Yemeni, cleared for release in 2009 by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, but still held, who as been on a hunger strike since 2007. Adnan Abdul Latif, a Yemeni who had serious mental health issues, was the last prisoner to die at Guantánamo, in September 2012, even though he too had long been cleared for release, so this tribute by Emad Hassan is particularly poignant.
  • My Road to Guantánamo” by Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), a Moroccan prisoner, also cleared for release in 2009, who tells the story of his capture and explains why he cannot return to Morocco and is seeking a third country to offer him a new home. In February this year, Reprieve made available a love letter by Younus to his wife Abla.

Read the rest of this entry »

UK Appeals Court Rules Abdel Hakim Belhaj, Rendered to Torture in Gaddafi’s Libya, Can Sue British Government

What a long road to justice this is turning out to be. Back in December 2011, Abdel Hakim Belhaj (aka Belhadj), a former opponent of the Gaddafi regime, who, in 2004, in an operation that involved the British security services, was kidnapped in China with his pregnant wife and delivered to Colonel Gaddafi, first attempted to sue the British government — and, specifically, the former foreign secretary, Jack Straw, MI6’s former director of counter-terrorism, Sir Mark Allen, the Foreign Office, the Home Office and MI5.

Since then, the government has fought to prevent him having his day in court, but on Thursday the court of appeal ruled, as the Guardian described it, that the case “should go ahead despite government attempts to resist it on grounds of the ‘act of state doctrine’, arguing that the courts could not inquire into what happened because it involved a foreign state.” The Guardian added that the ruling “establishes a significant precedent for other claims,” although it is possible, of course, that the Foreign Office will appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Guardian also noted that the British government had “maintained that the UK’s relations with the US would be seriously damaged if Belhaj was allowed to sue and make his case in a British court.” However, the judgment said that “while the trial relating to the couple’s rendition was likely to require a British court to assess the wrongfulness of acts by the CIA and Libyan agents, that was no reason to bar the claim.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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