In Court, Guantánamo Prisoner Shaker Aamer Asks for Independent Medical Evaluation

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. Please also sign the international petition calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, which currently has over 4,900 signatures. Please also see the declarations by Clive Stafford Smith and Ramzi Kassem.

On Tuesday, lawyers for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, filed a motion with the District Court in Washington D.C., seeking to persuade Judge Rosemary Collyer to compel the US government to “permit his examination by a medical expert of his choice,” retained by his lawyers.

Mr. Aamer’s legal team, who include Ramzi Kassem of City University of New York School of Law (who made this new motion available to me), Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, and David Remes, note that, although their client was cleared for release from Guantánamo “years ago by the US government’s own interagency process,” he is still held, and, they maintain, “An examination by an independent medical expert is needed for the Court to exercise its jurisdiction meaningfully by accurately assessing the reliability and voluntariness of any statements Mr. Aamer reportedly gave American (and any other) interrogators.”

Mr. Kassem and the other lawyers also state that an independent medical examination will aid the Court and the lawyers “in determining if Mr. Aamer can fully participate in his habeas proceedings.” As in the cases of the majority of the prisoners still held, Mr. Aamer has not had a judge rule on the merits of his habeas corpus petition, even though the Supreme Court recognized over five years ago, in Boumediene v. Bush, in June 2008, that the prisoners at Guantánamo have constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights. Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington: An Archive of Guantánamo Articles and Other Writing – Part 12, January to June 2012

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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 »

Book and Video: Ahmed Errachidi, The Cook Who Became “The General” in Guantánamo

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 »

Andy Worthington Joins Film-Makers and Authors to Judge Contest for Short Films About Torture

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.

The deadline for entries is January 9, 2014. For full details see here — and see here for the home page.

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 »

Shaker Aamer and Other Guantánamo Prisoners Call Force-Feeding Torture, Ask Appeals Court for Help

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 »

Judge Recognizes Force-Feeding as Torture, But Tells Guantánamo Prisoner Only President Obama Can Deal with the Hunger Strike

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 »

Video: Culture of Impunity – New Online Film Includes Andy Worthington Talking About Guantánamo, Torture and Ibn Al-Shaykh Al-Libi

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 »

Guantánamo Protests on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture in Washington D.C. and London

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 »

150 Doctors Condemn Force-Feeding at Guantánamo; Ahmed Belbacha Describes It As a Painful Ordeal

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 »

EXCLUSIVE: Two Guantánamo Prisoners Released in Mauritania

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 »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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