I’ve been away since last Wednesday, but I hope that you have time to read my latest article for Al-Jazeera, “Britain’s Latest Counter-Terrorism Disasters,” if you didn’t see it when it was published on the day of my departure (to the WOMAD festival in Wiltshire) and to like it, share it and tweet it if you find it of interest. It concerns two recent problems with the UK’s conduct in the “war on terror” — specifically, the latest embarrassment about British knowledge of what the US was doing with terror suspects on the UK’s Indian Ocean territory of Diego Garcia (a story that has been bubbling away for nearly 12 years), and the colossal waste of time and effort involved in the long UK detention without charge or trial of two British citizens, Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan (held for eight and six years), their extradition to the US in October 2012, their plea deals ast December and their sentencing last week, which has led to an order for Talha Ahsan’s immediate release, and a sentence for Babar Ahmad that will probably see him freed in the UK in just over a year.
The US, of course, is severely to blame for both of these policy disasters — through its policy of extraordinary rendition and CIA “black sites” under the Bush administration, which the UK readily supported, and through the UK-US Extradition Act of 2003, which was used to extradite Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad, even though it is clearly not a well-functioning system, as the UK government conceded that the two men could not have been put on trial in the UK.
Back in 2008 and 2009, in particular, I wrote extensively about Britain’s revolting counter-terrorism policies in the wake of 9/11: about the high-level attempts to hide British complicity in the torture of Binyam Mohamed, a British resident held in Guantánamo, who had been tortured in Morocco; about the foreign nationals held without charge or trial in the UK, on the basis of secret evidence presented in closed sessions in a special national security court, and the others — including British nationals — held on control orders, a form of house arrest that also involved secret evidence and no trials; and, on occasion, about Diego Garcia (see here, and see my Guardian article here).
Since the Tories seized power with the help of the Liberal Democrats in May 2010, the active threats to the fabric of British society have been severe that, in addition to my Guantánamo work, I have generally only had time to focus, when time has allowed, on the government’s war on the NHS and its assault on the poor, the unemployed and the disabled, although I did try to keep up with the story of Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan (see here and here). I am also involved in pushing for the release of Shaker Aamer, the last British prisoner in Guantánamo, and in recent months I have also covered the government’s terrible citizenship-stripping policy (see here, here and here), and the extremely dubious arrest of former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg (see here and here).
I’m delighted that this current opportunity arose for me to revisit, for Al-Jazeera, Britain’s counter-terrorism policies through these two examples, and I hope to find time to address other matters of concern, regarding this disgraceful government, over the coming months.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here – or here for the US).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
As I spend Christmas with family, I recall that, on this Christian holiday, which commemorates the birth of Jesus — drawing on an older tradition of celebrating the winter solstice, and the beginning of the sun’s rebirth after the shortest day of the year — there are other people who are unable to be with their families, including the men in Guantánamo who have been the focus of my work for the last eight years.
In the lull between opening presents and enjoying Christmas dinner, I’m pleased to have the opportunity to make available a recent article from the Huffington Post by Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, whose lawyers represent 15 prisoners still held at Guantánamo, including Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison.
I have been writing about Shaker’s case for the last eight years, and will continue to do so until he is freed, as his ongoing imprisonment is a disgrace that ought to disturb the Christmas dinners of the most senior representatives of two governments — the US and the UK — because there is, simply put, no good reason why he is still held, and is not back in London with his family.
The only reason he is still held is because, as an eloquent, forthright and intelligent man, and the foremost defender of the prisoners’ rights since they were first seized, mostly in Afghanistan and Pakistan 12 years ago, he has come to know more than most of the prisoners about the crimes committed by US officials, operatives and military personnel, and the complicity in these crimes of other countries’ representatives, including, of course, the UK. Read the rest of this entry »
For those of us who have been arguing for years that senior officials and lawyers in the Bush administration must be held accountable for the torture program they introduced and used in their “war on terror,” last week was a very interesting week indeed, as developments took place in Strasbourg, in London and in Washington D.C., which all pointed towards the impossibility that the torturers can escape accountability forever.
That may be wishful thinking, given the concerted efforts by officials in the US and elsewhere to avoid having to answer for their crimes, and the ways in which, through legal arguments and backroom deals, they have suppressed all attempts to hold them accountable. However, despite this, it seems that maintaining absolute silence is impossible, and last week one breakthrough took place when, unanimously, a 17-judge panel of the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of Khaled El-Masri, a German used car salesman of Lebanese origin, who is one of the most notorious cases of mistaken identity in the whole of the “war on terror.” See the summary here.
Describing the ruling, the Guardian described how the court stated that “CIA agents tortured a German citizen, sodomising, shackling, and beating him, as Macedonian state police looked on,” and “also found Macedonia guilty of torturing, abusing, and secretly imprisoning [him],” also noting, “It is the first time the court has described CIA treatment meted out to terror suspects as torture.” Read the rest of this entry »
Please sign the e-petition to the British government, calling for Shaker Aamer’s release, and the international petition on the Care 2 Petition Site, addressed to both the British and the American governments.
The family of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, have just released this photo of him, smiling and waving, and looking, for all the world, like a free man, even though he has just started his twelfth year in US custody. My headline is slightly misleading, as February 14, 2013 will mark the 11th anniversary of Shaker’s arrival at Guantánamo, if he is not released beforehand, but he was first sold into US custody on November 23, 2001, so it was a convenient shorthand for his eleven years in US custody. Please click on the photo to enlarge it.
This photo is the first to be made available since April 2011, when a photo of him was included in his classified military file, which was released by WikiLeaks. Hundreds of photos of the Guantánamo prisoners were included in the WikiLeaks files, and many of them featured prisoners who had never been seen before, or had only been seen in photos taken before their capture, which were often taken many years before their capture. Read the rest of this entry »
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.
Ten years and seven months after the Bush administration’s “war on terror” prison opened at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, it is less clear than it was under George W. Bush that the prison is a moral, legal and ethical abomination, a place where men bought for bounty payments are held, and men picked up on the basis of deeply flawed intelligence, and others labeled as terrorists when they were nothing more than soldiers fighting with the Taliban against the Northern Alliance in an inter-Muslim civil war that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks or any other acts of international terrorism.
It is worth remembering that, of the 168 men still held, only around three dozen were allegedly involved in terrorism — and even those claims require scrutiny, as they include Omar Khadr, the Canadian former child prisoner obliged to admit that he committed war crimes by engaging in military conflict with US forces, which, to right-minded people, is a permanent mark of shame against Barack Obama. They also include the kind of low-level prisoners already freed after trials — the Australian David Hicks; Salim Hamdan, a driver for Osama bin Laden; and Ibrahim al-Qosi, a cook in an al-Qaeda compound, and also an occasional driver for bin Laden. Only a handful of the men still held are actually regarded as dangerous international terrorists.
Under President Bush, when international criticism began to sting — primarily during his second term in office — 532 prisoners were released. It was clear that the process was political, and the subtext, though never admitted publicly, was also clear — that Guantánamo was a huge, embarrassing mistake. Read the rest of this entry »
Back in March 2009, three foreign prisoners seized in other countries and rendered to the main US prison in Afghanistan, at Bagram airbase, where they had been held for up to seven years, secured a legal victory in the District Court in Washington D.C., when Judge John D. Bates ruled that they had habeas corpus rights; in other words, the right to challenge the basis of their imprisonment under the “Great Writ” that prevents arbitrary detention.
The men — amongst dozens of foreigners held in Afghanistan — secured their legal victory because Judge Bates recognized that their circumstances were essentially the same as the prisoners at Guantánamo, who had been granted habeas corpus rights by the Supreme Court in June 2008.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration appealed Judge Bates’ careful and logical ruling, and the judges of the D.C. Circuit Court agreed, overturning the ruling in May 2010, and returning the three men to their legal black hole.
In April 2011, the Associated Press reported that the three men — Redha al-Najar, a Tunisian seized in Karachi, Pakistan in May 2002; Amin al-Bakri, a Yemeni gemstone dealer seized in Bangkok, Thailand in late 2002; and Fadi al-Maqaleh, a Yemeni seized in 2004 and sent to Abu Ghraib before Bagram — had all been cleared for release by review boards at Bagram, or, as it is now known, the Parwan Detention Facility. Read the rest of this entry »
Originally posted on the “Close Guantánamo” website, and written by Andy Worthington.
Ten years ago, on February 14, 2002, Shaker Aamer, a British resident, and originally one of 16 British prisoners in Guantánamo, arrived in Camp X-Ray, the rudimentary prison in the grounds of the US naval base in Cuba’s easternmost bay, which was used to hold prisoners until the first blocks of a more permanent facility, Camp Delta, opened for business in May 2002. On the same day, his fourth child, a son, was born.
A hugely charismatic figure, Aamer, born in Saudi Arabia in 1968, had moved to London in 1996, and had worked as an Arabic translator for a firm of solicitors working on immigration cases. He met and married a British woman and was granted residency. In June 2001, he took his family to Kabul — as did his friend Moazzam Begg — to volunteer for an Islamic charity. As his British solicitor Gareth Peirce noted in the Guardian on Tuesday, “Their work was teaching the sons and daughters of Arabic-speaking expatriates in the capital,” but after 9/11 and the US-led invasion, “the school was flattened in the first days of the bombing.”
Shaker made sure his pregnant wife and their three young children were safe, but was seized by Afghan bounty hunters, at a time when bounty payments of $5,000 a head were widespread. He was then sold on to other bounty hunters on two occasions, and on the third occasion was bought by Northern Alliance soldiers, who eventually handed him over — or sold him — to US forces. Read the rest of this entry »
For nearly six years, I have been researching and writing about Guantánamo and the 779 men (and boys) held there over the last ten years, first through my book The Guantánamo Files, and, since May 2007, as a full-time independent investigative journalist. For three years, I focused on the crimes of the Bush administration and, since January 2009, I have analysed the failures of the Obama administration to thoroughly repudiate those crimes and to hold anyone accountable for them, and, increasingly, on President Obama’s failure to charge or release prisoners, and to show any sign that Guantánamo will eventually be closed.
As the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo approaches, this is an intolerable situation, as the prison remains as much of an aberration, and a stain on America’s belief in itself as a nation ruled by laws, as it was when it was opened by George W. Bush on January 11, 2002. Closing the prison remains as important now as it did when I began this work in 2006.
Over the last six years of researching Guantánamo and writing about it on an almost daily basis, my intention has been to puncture the Bush administration’s propaganda about Guantánamo holding “the worst of the worst” by telling the prisoners’ stories and bringing them to life as human beings, rather than allowing them to remain as dehumanized scapegoats or bogeymen. Read the rest of this entry »
This week, Abdel Hakim Belhadj (aka Belhaj), a Libyan military commander and rebel leader, who is the head of the Tripoli Military Council and the former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, initiated legal proceedings against the British government and the security forces for their key role in his illegal abduction, rendition and barbaric treatment — and that of his pregnant wife Fatima Bouchar — in March 2004.
Mr. Belhadj, also identified as Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq, has instructed solicitors at Leigh Day & Co. to take legal action, and the legal action charity Reprieve are acting as US counsel and are also providing investigative support.
In 2004, when Mr. Belhadj’s ordeal at the hands of the British, the Americans and the Gaddafi regime began, he was living in Beijing, China, having previously led the resistance to the Gaddafi regime, and having, for a while, lived in Afghanistan. In early 2004, when Ms. Bouchar began to fear they were under surveillance, they decided to try to seek asylum in the UK. At the airport, however, they were detained and deported to Kuala Lumpur, in Malaysia, their previous destination before China. Read the rest of this entry »
In an extraordinary ruling in the UK yesterday (PDF), the Court of Appeal ordered the British government to secure the release of a prisoner, Yunus Rahmatullah, who is 29 years old, and has been held in the US prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan since March 2004. Born in Pakistan but raised in the Gulf States, Yunus was seized by British forces nearly eight years ago, in February 2004, and was then “handed to the US and illegally rendered to Afghanistan,” as the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, whose lawyers represent him, along with lawyers from Leigh Day & Co., explained in a press release.
Despite being held for nearly eight years, Yunus, also known as “Saleh Huddin,” was held incommunicado, unable even to contact his family, for six years, and has only recently been allowed to establish telephone contact with his relatives. Reprieve noted its lawyers and investigators had been “told by multiple sources that, as a result of his abuse in UK and US custody, he is in catastrophic mental and physical shape, and now spends most of his time in the mental health cells at Bagram.”
As Reprieve explained, this “historic decision” also “marks the first time any civilian legal system has penetrated Bagram, a legal black hole where nearly three thousand prisoners — many rendered from all over the world — have been unlawfully held by the US military for up to a decade.” Unlike at Guantánamo, itself an opaque and unjust facility, but one where civilian lawyers have had access since the Supreme Court granted the prisoners habeas corpus rights in June 2004, no civilian lawyer has ever been allowed into Bagram, which, as Reprieve described it, “is notorious for torture and homicides and has been called ‘Guantánamo’s Evil Twin.’” Read the rest of this entry »
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