Are you a film-maker and an anti-torture activist? If so, then a video contest, for which I’m a judge, will be of interest to you. The Tackling Torture Video Contest, launched in Minneapolis on June 30 by by Tackling Torture at the Top, a committee of WAMM (Women Against Military Madness), is open to both amateur and professional filmmakers.
Videos can be anything from 30 seconds to 5 minutes in duration. The contest is open to any citizen of any nation, but all videos must be in English or have full translations of all sound and text into English as part of the videos themselves.
There are four prizes in the competition: a $500 jury prize in the “serious” category; a $500 jury prize in the “humorous/satirical” category; and two $300 Audience Favorite prizes, one for “serious” and one for “humorous/satirical.” Read the rest of this entry »
On June 30, as I reported here, lawyers for four prisoners in Guantánamo — Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, Nabil Hadjarab and Ahmed Belbacha, both Algerians, and Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian — filed a motion with the District Court in Washington D.C., asking a judge to issue a ruling compelling 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 it was described in a press release by Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers filed the motion, along with Jon B. Eisenberg in the US.
The men are amongst the 86 prisoners (out of the 166 men still held), who were cleared for release by the inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, established by President Obama when he took office in 2009. In addition, all are involved in the prison-wide hunger strike that began six months ago, and both Nabil Hadjarab and Ahmed Belbacha are amongst the 41 prisoners who are being force-fed.
Although the prisoners made a compelling argument for the need for intervention, the judge ruling in Abu Wa’el Dhiab’s case, Judge Gladys Kessler, was unable to grant the motion, because of a legal precedent from February 2009, when, in the case of Mohammed al-Adahi, a Yemeni who sought to stop his force-feeding, a court ruled that “no court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider any other action against the United States or its agents relating to any aspect of the detention, transfer, treatment, trial, or conditions of confinement of an alien who is or was detained by the United States and has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant.” Read the rest of this entry »
In the District Court in Washington D.C. on Monday, Judge Gladys Kessler turned down a motion calling for her to order the government to stop force-feeding prisoners at Guantánamo and giving them medication without their consent. The motion was submitted on behalf of four prisoners taking part in the prison-wide hunger strike that began in February, who are amongst the 86 cleared prisoners still held (out of 166 prisoners in total), whose release was recommended by an inter-agency task force established by President Obama when he took office in 2009.
According to the government, 106 prisoners are engaged in the hunger strike. The prisoners state that the true number is around 120, but both parties seem to agree that 45 of these men are being force-fed. The government, however, refuses to recognize force-feeding as a horrendous procedure, even though it is recognized as torture by medical professionals, when it involves the force-feeding of mentally competent prisoners.
Judge Kessler is trapped by a legal precedent established by a higher court, the D.C. Circuit Court, but she nevertheless managed to criticize that precedent, and also to mention, and support the universal recognition that force-feeding prisoners “violates Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which prohibits torture or cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment.”
She also managed to both criticize President Obama for his inaction, and to point out that, as the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, he has “the authority — and power — to directly address the issue of force-feeding of the detainees at Guantánamo Bay.” Read the rest of this entry »
As today is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, initiated by the United Nations in 1997, on the 10th anniversary of the the day that the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into force, I’d like to take this opportunity to promote a newly released half-hour documentary film, “Culture of Impunity,” for which I was interviewed along with the law professor and author Marjorie Cohn, the professor, author and filmmaker Saul Landau, the author and activist David Swanson, Laura Pitter of Human Rights Watch, and Stephen Rohde of the ACLU.
The film, the first of a two-part documentary (with the second part to follow later in the year) was produced by Alternate Focus, which describes itself as “working for peace and justice by offering the American public media which shows another side of Middle Eastern issues,” and I was interviewed for it in April.
Dealing with the illegal invasion of Iraq, the establishment of Guantánamo, “extraordinary rendition,” CIA “black sites,” America’s secret torture program, and the guilt of those responsible for initiating the war, the arbitrary detention and the torture — including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice — the film also covers the case of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, who I spoke about. 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 »
Over 150 doctors from the US and around the world have condemned the force-feeding of hunger strikers at Guantánamo in a letter to President Obama that was published in the Lancet this week. They were following up on a letter to medical professionals at the prison, which 13 prisoners wrote at the end of May, and which I posted here.
In that letter, the prisoners complained about their abuse by doctors — “For those of us being force-fed against our will, the process of having a tube repeatedly forced up our noses and down our throats in order to keep us in a state of semi-starvation is extremely painful and the conditions under which it is done are abusive” — and called for “independent medical professionals” to be allowed into Guantánamo to treat them, and to be given full access to their medical records, in order to determine the best treatment for them.
The letter from 153 doctors echoes these calls, pointing out that the prisoners “do not trust their military doctors,” and that they “have very good reason for this,” as was revealed in the document, “Standard Operating Procedure: Medical management of Detainees on Hunger Strike,” dated March 5, 2013, which was recently obtained through FOIA legislation by my friend and colleague Jason Leopold for Al-Jazeera. Read the rest of this entry »
Note: Please read the comments below for updates. As at 3pm GMT on June 1, there has been no confirmation of the releases. Sources in Mauritania are still saying the men have been freed, but are not yet reunited with their families, while the US authorities are denying it. Some reports claim that only the man from Bagram has been returned home.
Update June 2: It now appears clear that only the man in Bagram was returned, and that the human rights representative in Mauritania was mistaken about the releases from Guantánamo. This is very sad news, particularly for Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, who is one of the 86 prisoners still in Guantánamo who were cleared for release over three years ago by President Obama’s inter-agency task force, and who emphatically should have been freed. Further commentary to follow soon.
In news that has so far only been available in Arabic, and which I was informed about by a Mauritanian friend on Facebook, I can confirm that two prisoners from Guantánamo have been released, and returned to their home country of Mauritania. The links are here and here.
The two men are Ahmed Ould Abdul Aziz and Mohamedou Ould Slahi, and they were accompanied by a third man, Hajj Ould Cheikh Hussein, who was apparently captured in Pakistan and held at Bagram in Afghanistan, which later became known as the Parwan Detention Facility.
According to one of the Arabic news sources, US officials handed the men to the Mauritanian security services who took them to an unknown destination. They have also reportedly met with their families.
I have no further information for now, but this appears to be confirmation that President Obama’s promise to resume the release of prisoners from Guantánamo was not as hollow as many of his promises have turned out to be. It also follows hints, in the Wall Street Journal (which I wrote about here), indicating that he would begin not with any of the 56 Yemeni prisoners out of the 86 prisoners cleared for release by the inter-agency task force that he established in 2009, but with some of the 30 others. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
“It is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practise of torture.” These powerful words are from “The Report of the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment,” a 600-page report involving a detailed analysis of the treatment of prisoners following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The project took two years to complete, and its conclusions are difficult to dismiss, as the eleven-member panel constitutes a cross-section of the US establishment.
The co-chairs are Asa Hutchinson, who, as the Atlantic described it, “served in the Bush Administration as a Department of Homeland Security undersecretary from 2003 to 2005, and as the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration before that,” and James R. Jones, “a former US ambassador to Mexico and a Democratic member of the House of Representatives for seven terms.”
Other members of the panel include “Talbot D’Alemberte, a former president of the American Bar Association; legal scholar Richard Epstein; David Gushee, a professor of Christian ethics; David Irvine, a former Republican state legislator and retired brigadier general; Claudia Kennedy, ‘the first woman to receive the rank of three-star general in the United States army’; naval veteran and career diplomat Thomas Pickering; [and] William Sessions, director of the FBI in three presidential administrations.”
The project was undertaken because, as the Task Force explained, “the Obama administration declined, as a matter of policy, to undertake or commission an official study of what happened, saying it was unproductive to ‘look backwards’ rather than forward.” Read the rest of this entry »
As the world’s media marked the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq on Tuesday, I was honoured to be asked to speak to Dennis Bernstein, the veteran progressive radio host at KPFA in Berkeley.
Dennis and I have spoken before, and it’s always a pleasure to talk with him, but I was particularly pleased that I was asked to speak about Guantánamo as part of a program about Iraq, as far too few people in the media make the connections between the invasion of Iraq, the invasion of Afghanistan, Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, the use of torture and “black sites.”
At the start of the show, Dennis spoke to Raed Jarrar, an Iraqi exile who works for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and who delivered a searing indictment of the apologist for the Iraq war, ten years on, who pretend that it was, on an level, worthwhile, when, as he pointed out, it led to “one million dead, five million displaced, and the country in a shambles.”
My segment starts at 28 minutes in and last for a quarter of an hour, and began with Dennis asking me to recap how I researched the story of Guantánamo, and got to know about the stories of the men held there (through an analysis of 8,000 pages released by the Pentagon as the result of an FOIA lawsuit), and why the lies told about them — that they were “the worst of the worst” — were so outrageous: primarily, because the majority of the prisoners were bought for bounty payments from their Afghan and Pakistani allies, and because most of what purports to be evidence against them consists of dubious or patently false statements made by the prisoners themselves, or by their fellow prisoners, through the use of torture, abuse, or bribery (the promise of better living conditions). Read the rest of this entry »
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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