Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo with Chris Cook on Gorilla Radio

On Monday evening in Canada (early on Tuesday morning in London), I was delighted to speak to Chris Cook for his well-respected and long running Gorilla Radio show in British Columbia, in Canada. The MP3 of the hour-long show is here, and Chris and I spoke for the first half-hour.

In reviewing my activities, I see that Chris and I spoke for the first time three years ago, in January 2011, when we spoke about Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks, and, of course, Guantánamo, and this week we were revisiting Guantánamo, on the eve of the 12th anniversary of its opening (On Saturday January 11), as I prepared to fly out to the US for a two-week tour to call for the prison’s closure, and, hopefully, to help people understand why it is so important that the prison is finally closed, five years after President Obama first took office, promising to close it within a year. My itinerary, for my visit from January 8-21, is here.

Even putting aside the torture that was official policy at Guantánamo from 2002 to 2004, the Indefinite detention without charge or trial that is at the very heart of Guantánamo’s operations is an affront to the values that America claims to believe in, and this is true every second that the prison remains open.

Chris and I talked about the progress made recently — the action promised by President Obama last year after a prison-wide hunger strike awakened the world to the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo, and the release, in the last few months, of eleven prisoners. Read the rest of this entry »

The Last Three Uighurs Are Freed from Guantánamo; 76 Cleared Prisoners Remain

As was reported on New Year’s Eve by Carol Rosenberg in the Miami Herald, one of Guantánamo’s burning injustices has finally been addressed with the release — to Slovakia — of the last three Uighur prisoners, five years and two months after a US judge ordered their release.

The Uighurs are Muslims from China’s oppressed Xinjiang province, in the north west of the country, and, prior to the 9/11 attacks and the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, 22 of them, who subsequently ended up at Guantánamo, had been living in a small, rundown settlement in the Tora Bora mountains in eastern Afghanistan — either because they had been unable to reach countries they hoped to reach in search of a new life (primarily Turkey, as the Uighurs are a Turkic ethnic group) or because they nursed far-fetched hopes of training militarily to rise up against their oppressors.

After the US-led invasion, their settlement was bombed by US planes, and the survivors fled, eventually making it across the border to Pakistan, where they were greeted warmly by villagers who then promptly handed therm over — or sold them — to US forces.

Although it should have been clear that the men were seized by mistake, as they had only one enemy, the Chinese Communist government (a point they made repeatedly), they were initially used as pawns in diplomatic games with the Chinese government, whereby they were designated as terrorists in return for a promise by China not to oppose the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Read the rest of this entry »

The Relentless Importance of Closing Guantánamo

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.

Two weeks ago, there was a flurry of activity in the mainstream media when it was announced that the State Department had reassigned Daniel Fried, the special envoy for closing the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo, and would not be replacing him. As Charlie Savage explained for the New York Times, “Mr. Fried’s office is being closed, and his former responsibilities will be ‘assumed’ by the office of the department’s legal adviser,” according to an internal personnel announcement.

The Times article continued: “The announcement that no senior official in President Obama’s second term will succeed Mr. Fried in working primarily on diplomatic issues pertaining to repatriating or resettling detainees appeared to signal that the administration does not currently see the closing of the prison as a realistic priority, despite repeated statements that it still intends to do so.” Read the rest of this entry »

Another Torture Victim on Trial at Guantánamo

In the last two weeks, the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay enjoyed a brief resurgence of interest as pre-trial hearings took place in the cases of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men accused of directing and supporting the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and in the case of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi national accused of masterminding the attack on the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen in October 2000, in which 17 US sailors were killed, when suicide bombers blew up a bomb-laden boat beside the warship.

Guantánamo has largely been ignored during the Presidential election campaign, even though 166 men still languish there, and over half of them — 86 men in total — have been cleared for release for at least three years (although in many cases for far longer), and one of these men — Adnan Latif, a Yemeni — died in September, eight years after the authorities first decided that they had no interest in holding him any longer.

The ongoing detention of these men ought to be a major news story, but instead it is generally overlooked, and the media’s attention is largely reserved for pre-trial hearings in the cases of the men mentioned above, even though these hearings are generally inconclusive, and involve prosecutors following the government’s position — which focuses on hiding all mention of torture by US forces — while the prisoners’ defense teams argue that justice cannot be delivered if the torture of these men is not mentioned. Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are the 55 Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners on the List Released by the Obama Administration?

I wrote the following report exclusively for the “Close Guantánamo” campaign and website, which I established in January 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.

POSTSCRIPT January 2013: The Center for Constitutional Rights has confirmed that a 56th prisoner was added to this list after its initial drafting — Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian mentioned below.

UPDATE March 14, 2014: Please note that this list of 56 men cleared for release by the Guantánamo Review Task Force (plus the 30 other Yemenis cleared for release but held in “conditional detention” until the authorities are satisfied that the security situation in Yemen has improved) reflected the situation at Guantánamo from the time of its publication in October 2012 until August 2013, when two Algerians on the list were released, followed by eight other cleared prisoners in December, and one more in March 2014. I have noted who has been released on the list. As a result of these releases, there are now 76 cleared prisoners (46 plus the 30 Yemenis in “conditional detention”). For a breakdown of who is who (including the identities of the 30 Yemenis in “conditional detention”), see the “Close Guantánamo” prisoner list.

On September 21, lawyers for the Guantánamo prisoners — and others who had been watching Guantánamo closely — were completely taken by surprise when, as part of a court case, the Justice Department released the names of 55 of the 86 prisoners cleared for release from Guantánamo in 2009 by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force.

The Task Force was made up of officials and lawyers from all the relevant government departments and from the intelligence agencies, and its final report was issued in January 2010. Of the 166 prisoners still held, 86 of those were recommended for release, but are still held, and the list reveals, for the first time ever, 55 of those names. Read the rest of this entry »

Obama Releases Names of Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners; Now It’s Time to Set Them Free

On Friday, as part of a court case, the Justice Department released the names of 55 of the 86 prisoners cleared for release from Guantánamo in 2009 by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, which consisted of officials from key government departments and the intelligence agencies. The Task Force’s final report was issued in January 2010.

Until now, the government has always refused to release the names, hindering efforts by the prisoners’ lawyers — and other interested parties — to publicize their plight.

The rationale for this was explained by Ambassador Daniel Fried, the State Department’s Special Envoy for the Closure of the Guantánamo Bay Detention Facility, in June 2009, when he stated that “indiscriminate public disclosure of the decisions resulting from reviews by Guantánamo Review Task Force will impair the US Government’s ability effectively to repatriate and resettle Guantánamo detainees” under the executive order establishing a review of the prisoners’ cases, which was issued on President Obama’s second day in office in January 2009, at the same time that he promised to close Guantánamo within a year. Read the rest of this entry »

“Pragmatism Over Ideology”: Obama’s Failure to Close Guantánamo, and His Love of Drones

Last week, a major article in the New York Times painted a grim portrait of how President Obama has taken over from George W. Bush as the “commander in chief” of a “war on terror” that seems to have no end, and that not only appears to be counter-productive, but also, at heart, illegal.

Understandably, critics have been alarmed by the article’s revelations about a President who holds regular meetings to decide who should be on a “kill list” for drone strikes — in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia — and who insists on approving the targets of drone raids, which is his primary method of dealing with the perceived terrorist threat, by “poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre ‘baseball cards’ of an unconventional war.”

As well as claiming the right to kill people (including US citizens) in drone attacks that seem very clearly to do away with notions of national sovereignty — and which therefore play into George W. Bush’s dreadful notion of the entire world as an endless battlefield — the Times article also noted that President Obama has also “embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties,” which “in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants … unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.” Read the rest of this entry »

EXCLUSIVE: Guantánamo Scandal: The 40 Prisoners Still Held But Cleared for Release At Least Five Years Ago

This investigative report is published simultaneously here, and on the website of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, which I established in January 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.

One of the greatest injustices at Guantánamo is that, of the 169 prisoners still held, over half — 87 in total — were cleared for release by President Obama’s interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force. The Task Force involved around 60 career officials from various government departments and the intelligence agencies, who spent the first year of the Obama Presidency reviewing the cases of all the remaining prisoners in Guantánamo, to decide whether they should be tried, released, or, in some cases, held indefinitely without charge or trial. The Task Force’s final report is here (PDF).

Exactly who these 87 men are is a closely held secret on the part of the administration, which is unfortunate for those of us working towards the closure of Guantánamo, as it prevents us from campaigning as effectively as we would like for the majority of these men, given that we are not entirely sure of their status. Attorneys for the prisoners have been told about their clients’ status, but that information — as with so much involving Guantánamo — is classified.

However, through recent research — into the classified military files about the Guantánamo prisoners, compiled by the Joint Task Force at the prison, which were released last year by WikiLeaks, as well as documents made available by the Bush administration, along with some additional information from the years of the Obama administration — I have been able to establish the identities of 40 men — 23 Yemenis, and 17 from other countries — who, between 2004 and 2009, were cleared for release by the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo, by military review boards under the Bush administration, or by President Obama’s Task Force, and to identify the official documents in which these decisions were noted. Read the rest of this entry »

Close Guantánamo: Washington Post Calls for Last Three Uighur Prisoners to Be Freed in the US

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 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.

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we were delighted when, a fortnight ago, two prisoners were released from Guantánamo, the first prisoners to be released for 15 months. The two men in question, Abdul Razak Qadir and Ahmed Mohamed, were released in El Salvador, because they are Uighurs, Muslims from Xinjiang province in China, and they were resettled in El Salvador because the US agreed with them — and their lawyers — that it was unsafe for them to be returned to China, where Uighurs face persecution from the Chinese government.

The background to the stories of the Uighurs — 22 of whom were held at Guantánamo in total — was reported in depth in two previous articles for “Close Guantánamo” — New “Close Guantánamo” Campaign Begins Prisoner Profiles, Features Abdul Razak Qadir, One of Five Innocent Uighurs Still Held and Guantánamo: Who Are The Two Uighurs Freed in El Salvador, and Why Are 87 Men Cleared for Release Still Held? — in which it was explained that, after fleeing China, most of them had been living in a rundown settlement in the Afghan mountains, which was bombed by US forces after the US-led invasion in October 2001, forcing them to flee to Pakistan, where villagers first welcomed them and then stealthily sold them to US forces.

The struggle to find new homes for the Uighurs began under President Bush, who relocated five of them to Albania in May 2006. Under President Obama, four were sent to Bermuda in June 2009, six to Palau in October 2009, and two to Switzerland in March 2010, but it took until two weeks ago for a new home to be found for any of the five remaining Uighurs who had been waiting for a new home for over two years. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo: Who Are The Two Uighurs Freed in El Salvador, and Why Are 87 Men Cleared for Release Still Held?

As published on the “Close Guantánamo” website. Please join us — just an email address required.

With no fanfare — just an announcement on its website — the Pentagon informed the world on Thursday that two Uighur prisoners at Guantánamo, held for over ten years but recognized as innocent almost from the moment of their capture, had been freed in El Salvador. As the Pentagon helpfully explained, the two men “were subject to release from Guantánamo as a result of a court order issued on October 7, 2008 by the US District Court for the District of Columbia,” and it was also noted that they “are voluntarily resettling in El Salvador.”

The Pentagon also noted, “As directed by the President’s January 22, 2009, executive order, the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force conducted a comprehensive review of these cases,” and, as a result, they “were designated for transfer by unanimous consent among all six agencies on the task force.”

The release of these men is most welcome, because, primarily as a result of deliberate Congressional obstruction, no living prisoner has left Guantánamo for 15 months — the longest period without any releases in the prison’s ten-year history. The last living prisoner to leave Guantánamo was an Algerian, Farhi Saeed bin Mohammed, who won his habeas corpus petition and was repatriated, against his will, in January 2011, but the last two men to leave the prison had actually left in coffins, having died in the prison in February and May last year. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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