UK Torture: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner’s Memories Provide A Reminder That We Need Accountability

Protestors with Witness Against Torture calling for the closure of Guantanamo and accountability for torture outside the White House on January 11, 2015 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

How short memories are in this goldfish world of ours. Less than a month ago, Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) issued two reports, one on ‘Detainee Mistreatment and Rendition: 2001–2010’ and the other on ‘Detainee Mistreatment and Rendition: Current Issues.’

On Facebook, I commended Dominic Grieve MP for his stewardship of the ISC, and for having spent years trying to uncover the truth about Britain’s involvement in post-9/11 rendition and torture, inspired, I have no doubt, by the US’s demonstration of checks and balances in its own political system, with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,200-page report, of which the 528-page executive summary was issued in December 2014, providing a permanent reminder that, in contrast, the UK tends to prefer an all-encompassing blanket of “official secrecy” regarding its own wrong-doing.

I wrote of the ISC’s reports, “This is compelling stuff, and a testament to Grieve’s determination to go beyond previous whitewashes, but what is clearly needed now is an official judge-led inquiry which will leave no stone unturned — and no senior ex-officials (up to and including Tony Blair and Jack Straw) unquestioned. Grieve noted that the committee was ‘denied access to key intelligence individuals by the prime minister’ (Theresa May) and so ‘reluctantly decided to bring the inquiry to a premature end.’” Read the rest of this entry »

Basketcase Britain: Two Years After the EU Referendum, the Tories Are Still Clueless and Racism Is Still Rampant

An apocalyptic view of London (image via Reddit).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

Exactly two years ago, Britain went to the polls for what turned out to be one of the most depressing days, politically, in my entire life, as a small majority (51.89%) of the 72.21% of the population who could be bothered to vote expressed their desire to leave the EU.

The referendum was merely advisory; in other words, it was not legally binding, but the government never acknowledged this. In fact, referendums involving major constitutional change generally require at least a two-thirds majority, but the Tories ignored that as well.

David Cameron, who had called the referendum to placate UKIP and the far right of his own party, and had mistakenly thought it would be an easy win, walked off unscathed into the sunset, and after a short bloodbath the hapless Theresa May — who had spent six years as a horribly racist Home Secretary — was apparently the only senior minister left standing who could take over.

And because “the will of the people” apparently had to be respected, May has, ever since, been at the head of a cabinet that, essentially, represents the success of the kind of isolationist lunatics that even Margaret Thatcher recognized as needing to be kept firmly locked in a box throughout her premiership.

Out of his depth, David Davis heads the government’s Brexiteers, along with the vile Liam Fox, and the totally unprincipled Boris Johnson, whose cheerleading for leaving the EU played a major part in the Leave campaign’s success, even though Boris didn’t mean it, and was only going along with it as he jockeyed for position.

Weirdo Michael Gove is back too, and bizarrely even medieval throwbacks like arch-Leaver Jacob Rees-Mogg are getting serious media coverage these days — as part of the mainstream media’s extraordinary failure to question the Brexit narrative properly. Back in 2015-16, they behaved as though Nigel Farage was the King of England, or the Prime Minister, when he was the head of a party with, at most, one MP, and now the media fawn over the ridiculous figure of Rees-Mogg.

After the result, like so many liberal Remainers, I was actually quite depressed, as my articles from the time show; from the day after, UK Votes to Leave the EU: A Triumph of Racism and Massively Counter-Productive Political Vandalism, and, from June 26, 2016, Life in the UK After the EU Referendum: Waking Up Repeatedly at a Funeral That Never Ends.

I then followed the twists and turns as Parliament, generally in a depressingly feeble manner, made noises about needing the right to meaningfully participate in the Brexit process — which Brexiteers hated, even though the whole point of Brexit was to wrest back the illusory control that the EU had to restore British sovereignty, which, in the UK, resides with Parliament, and not with whichever clown is installed in 10 Downing Street.

But this is all just part of the Brexit madness that has existed for the last two years. When a legal challenge was mounted, the pro-Brexit tabloids — in particular, the Daily Mail under the execrable Paul Dacre, and the Sun under non-Brit Rupert Murdoch — accused High Court and Supreme Court judges of being traitors, and they continue to do the same every time MPs or the House of Lords do anything to rock their ludicrous fantasies about Brexit.

Leaving the EU, contrary to the Brexiteers’ blunt obsession with pretending that it’s as simple as shutting a door, is to undo 45 years of laws and treaties that have created an incredibly complex system tying us to our European neighbours — facilitating the seamless trade with the EU that constitutes 60% of our business, a fact that ought to provide a compelling reason for not allowing Brexit to proceed.

My analogy is that Brexit is like chopping a body in half, but then having only a few minutes for the surgery required to prevent the body from dying — an impossible task, but in our new fantasy Britain, the Brexiteers will be denying that we’re bleeding to death until they draw their final breath.

Brexiteers, meanwhile, have no answers to Remainers’ thoroughly valid sense of alarm, relying on simple-minded platitudes that fail to bear up under even the most minimal scrutiny. To be honest, I have found the whole topic so depressing that I have largely given up on it over the last year, although I always keep an eye out for the crucial analysis of Ian Dunt of politics.co.uk, whose book Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now? is required reading — and also includes some serious analysis of the elephant in the room that the Tories simply don’t want to properly acknowledge: that there is an intractable Irish border problem that can’t be wished away, and that may either cause a resurgence of war in Ireland (generally referred to quaintly as ‘the Troubles’) or the break-up of the Union (which is supposed to be absolutely central to the Tories’ political philosophy), with, no doubt, Scotland following if Brexit goes ahead. Such is the Brexit madness, however, that last week, when polled on this, a majority of die-hard Brexiteers said they’d be happy to lose Northern Ireland to preserve their Brexit fantasy.

Another baleful effect of the Brexit vote, which I must note, before I reflect on where we are now and what the future might bring, is that racism is noticeably on the rise in Brexit Britain. Whenever I have met an EU national in the last two years, I have apologised for the change in their treatment over the last two years, asking about, and always receiving confirmation that, since the referendum, they have been subjected to abuse, and being told to “go home”, that simply didn’t happen before. The cat is out of the bag, and what vicious, mangy creature it is.

So where are we now? Today, I’m glad to note, an estimated 100,000 people marched in central London to demand a second referendum. I wasn’t able to make it, as I had an important housing campaign meeting in Lewisham, but I also couldn’t quite face yet another incredibly polite pro-EU march, as I’ve been on many in the last two years, and I don’t think politeness is really working. I was, however, pleased to note that the Observer reported the following:

With more businesses poised to issue dire Brexit warnings this week and senior Tories already drawing up plans to soften Theresa May’s exit proposals, organisers of the march on Sunday said it showed Britain’s departure from the European Union was not a “done deal”.

A former aide to Margaret Thatcher, several Labour MPs and pro-EU campaigners from across Britain took part in the demonstration, marking two years since the Brexit vote. Organisers said that people from every region and walk of life were among those who took part in the march down Whitehall.

Conservative supporters marched alongside Labour voters and Liberal Democrats during the protest, which saw angry denunciations of the chaos that has ensued inside government since the Brexit vote. Labour’s leadership also came under pressure at the march for refusing to back a second public vote. There were chants of “Where’s Jeremy Corbyn” from the crowd. The Labour leader was on a visit to a Palestinian refugee camp.

The Observer added:

Anger on the streets at the prime minister’s handling of the Brexit negotiations is being accompanied by a renewed push from industry to ensure that trade with Europe is not disrupted as a result of leaving.

More prominent manufacturing firms are set to issue warnings about Britain’s Brexit negotiations within days, after Airbus and BMW broke cover to say they could reconsider their UK investment plans unless a Brexit deal was reached keeping Britain closely aligned with Europe.

The only real way for that to happen, of course, is for Brexit to be scrapped, but despite today’s protest, it remains unclear how that can happen. Personally, I’m not sure I trust the electorate to deliver a second referendum result different from the first, given that the country is still, on balance, or for less balanced between Leave and Remain, with, still, millions of people who refuse to make any kind of commitment one way or another.

I actually think MPs should derail it, but I don’t hold out much hope for that either, as they have generally been so craven when it comes to rocking the Brexit boat. Resistance by the Lords has been more robust, but they lack the power to genuinely stop the government in an meaningful manner.

Do we really have to crash out of the EU, and destroy our economy, before we wake up, kick out the Tories, and ask the EU to forgive our episode of madness and let us back in?

I fear that the answer is yes, as I remember why it is that I’ve been so studiously avoiding engaging with Brexit for most of the last year. It’s simply too depressing …

Note: Anyone who’s seen my band The Four Fathers recently will know that we perform a storming song I wrote about Brexit, ‘I Want My Country Back (From The People Who Wanted Their Country Back)’, which we’ll be recording in about three weeks’ time, and then intend to release. Do get in touch if you want to be informed about its release.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in 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), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London.

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, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

The 34 Estates Approved for Destruction By Sadiq Khan Despite Promising No More Demolitions Without Residents’ Ballots

The destruction of Robin Hood Gardens estate in Poplar, March 13, 2018 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.

 

Anyone paying any attention to the sordid story of council estate demolitions in London will know how hard it is to take politicians seriously — and especially Labour politicians — when it comes to telling the truth about their actions and their intentions.

Perfectly sound estates are deliberately run down, so that councils can then claim that it’s too expensive to refurbish them, and that the only option is to knock them down and build new ones — with their developer friends who are conveniently waiting in the wings.

In addition, a collection of further lies are also disseminated, which divert attention from the fundamental injustice of the alleged justification for demolitions — false claims that the new housing will be “affordable”, when it isn’t; that part-ownership deals are worthwhile, when they are not; and that building new properties with private developers will reduce council waiting lists, when it won’t. Read the rest of this entry »

UK Government Demonstrates Its Contempt for Justice in Dealings with ISIS Suspects Nicknamed “the Beatles”

The four British men who joined IS in Syria, and became torturers and executioners. From L to R: El Shafee Elsheikh, Mohammed Emwazi, Aine Davis and Alexanda Kotey.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

Britain has a dark and brutal history, but principled members of its establishment played a major part in establishing fundamental human rights following the horrors of the Second World War, only to see those rights undermined when it didn’t suit the government — in Ireland in the 1970s, for example, and, since 9/11, as the US’s stoutest ally in the law-shredding “war on terror” that the Bush administration declared after the terrorist attacks.

Just months after 9/11, Tony Blair began imprisoning foreign nationals, suspected of involvement with terrorism, without charge or trial, and on the basis of secret evidence, and his government also subjected British terror suspects to internal exile and house arrest under “control orders.”

When the Tories took over in 2010, promises made by David Cameron to banish this bleak landscape were quickly sidelined, and Theresa May’s six-year tenure as home secretary, from 2010 to 2016, was a horrendously dark and racist time, as May sent vans around Britain’s streets telling immigrants to go home, crowed at the Conservative Party conference about extraditing Muslim terror suspects to the US, just after refusing to allow a white Briton to be extradited, persistently stated her vile authoritarian desire to remove the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights, and, in 2013, stripped two dual national British citizens of their British citizenship, while they were in Syria, and then told the US government where they were, so they could be killed in drone strikes. I reported all off this, and more, in an article in July 2016 entitled, As Theresa May Becomes Prime Minister, A Look Back at Her Authoritarianism, Islamophobia and Harshness on Immigration. Read the rest of this entry »

Brexit: Opposition to Leaving the EU Builds, While Theresa May Reminds EU Citizens Living and Working in the UK That They Are Pawns in Her Inept Game

A child protesting against the outcome of the EU referendum at the March for Europe in London on September 3, 2016 (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a freelance investigative journalist and commentator.

 

On Brexit, the Tory government is still flailing around like the most drunk person at a wedding.

Last week, the home secretary Philip Hammond delivered a forgettable Budget dominated by the largest elephant in the room — the continuing fallout from the EU referendum in June, which he conveniently forget to mention. In the meantime, the  Office for Budget Responsibility, the government body set up by George Osborne to impartially assess the UK economy, provided a reality check. As the Independent described it, “A shadow has been cast over Brexit Britain as the country faces a £122 billion budget black hole, dwindling growth, slow trade, lower pay and austerity stretching into the late 2020s.” In particular the newspaper noted, the OBR “set out how Brexit was driving the UK’s public finances deep into the red, with a key factor being the cost of losing valuable foreign workers.”

Brexiteers, in a constant state of denial about the suicidal cost of their enthusiasm for leaving the EU, even though they still cannot summon up a single compelling reason for this life-threatening rupture to take place, took aim at the OBR, as they do everyone and every organisation that threatens their costs delusions out sovereignty. Martin Kettle’s take on it was that the OBR had been “kneecapped in a back alley by Brexit provos and its brand has been trashed in the anti-European press’s embrace of post-truth politics.” Read the rest of this entry »

Trump’s Victory Confirms 2016 as the Year WASPs Began, Alarmingly, to Embrace the Far Right in Significant Numbers

A photo taken by Andy Worthington in New York in January 2016, used as the cover image for Andy's band The Four Fathers' song "Neo-Liberal Bullshit Blues," which features a verse about Donald Trump.

Please listen to “Neo-Liberal Bullshit Blues” by my band The Four Fathers, with its verse about how “Donald Trump is no answer / He’s just a selfish and dangerous fool / He’s just another version / Of the Neo-Liberal Bullshit Blues.”

Like June 23, 2016, November 8, 2016 will go down in the history books as a day when dreams of progress and tolerance and hope were brutally dashed. On June 23, in the UK, a slim majority of voters who could be bothered to turn out to vote in the EU referendum gave a kicking to the British establishment and endorsed racism and xenophobia, damaging the economy for no discernibly important reason whatsoever, making us a laughing stock around the world, and resetting the UK’s default position on tolerance to one in which foreigners can be openly abused, and anyone foreign-born, or appearing to be foreign-born, can be treated as “the other.”

In the US, as Jonathan Freedland wrote for the Guardian today, “We thought the United States would step back from the abyss. We believed … that Americans would not, in the end, hand the most powerful office on earth to an unstable bigot, sexual predator and compulsive liar.”

And yet, that is exactly what happened, and the parallels with the UK are, unfortunately, illuminating. Voters gave a kicking to the establishment, represented by Hillary Clinton, and white voters turned to Trump, the showman who, like Nigel Farage, pretended to be a “man of the people,” even though that was patently untrue. Read the rest of this entry »

Parliament and the People: Two Days of London Events About Guantánamo, Torture and the Military Commissions

Sam Raphael, Alka Pradhan, Andy Worthington and Carla Ferstman at an event about Guantanamo, torture and the military commissions at the University of Westminster on November 2, 2016 (photo via Gitmo Watch).

Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo until the end of the year.

 

So last week was an interesting week for events focused on Guantánamo, torture and the military commissions in London, as Alka Pradhan, a lawyer with the defense team for Ammar al-Baluchi (aka Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali), a “high-value detainee,” and one of five men facing a trial for his alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks, was in town, and as a result MPs who, for the most part, had been involved in the campaign to free Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, had arranged a Parliamentary meeting.

The meeting was also called to coincide with a visit from Andrew Tyrie MP (Conservative, Chichester), the chair of the long-standing All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition, and the election of officers for a new APPG on Guantánamo. It was chaired by Tom Brake MP (Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington), who held a Parliamentary meeting earlier this year for Mohamedou Ould Slahi, the torture victim and best-selling author who was recently released from Guantánamo, and attended by MPs including Chris Law (SNP, Dundee West), who will be the chair of the new APPG, and Andy Slaughter (Labour, Hammersmith), who, in 2014, visited Washington, D.C. to call for Shaker Aamer’s release with the Conservative MPs David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, and Jeremy Corbyn, before he became the leader of the Labour Party. Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion) and Mark Durkan (SDLP) were unable to make it to the meeting, but will also be involved in the APPG.

At the meeting, Alka briefed MPs on the story of her client, which I recently wrote about for Al-Jazeera, as he sought to persuade the US government to allow the UN Rapporteur for Torture to make an independent visit to Guantánamo to assess the conditions in which they are held, and to talk freely with them about their torture in CIA “black sites.” Unsurprisingly, no independent visit has been allowed, because the US government is determined to continue hiding evidence of the CIA’s torture program, despite the publication, nearly two years ago, of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the CIA’s torture program, with its damning verdict on the brutality and futility of the program, and the CIA’s repeated lies about it. Read the rest of this entry »

YES! Judges Tell Lawless Tory Government That UK Cannot Leave EU Without Parliamentary Approval

A BBC graphic from June showing how three-quarters of MPs support staying in the EU.

Please support my work as a freelance investigative journalist.

 

Great, great, great news from the High Court, as three of the most senior judges in the UK — the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, Sir Terence Etherton, the Master of the Rolls, and Lord Justice Sales — have ruled that “Parliament alone has the power to trigger Brexit by notifying Brussels of the UK’s intention to leave the European Union,” as the Guardian reported it, adding that the ruling was “likely to slow the pace of Britain’s departure from the EU and is a huge setback for Theresa May, who had insisted the government alone would decide when to trigger the process.”

Despite Theresa May’s wishful thinking, the Lord Chief Justice reminded her — and her ministers — that “the most fundamental rule of the UK constitution is that Parliament is sovereign,” something that those us with better knowledge of British democracy than our most senior ministers have been pointing out for the last four months.

Lord Thomas said, specifically, “The court does not accept the argument put forward by the government. There is nothing in the 1972 European Communities Act to support it. In the judgment of the court, the argument is contrary both to the language used by parliament in the 1972 act, and to the fundamental principles of the sovereignty of parliament and the absence of any entitlement on the part of the crown to change domestic law by the exercise of its prerogative powers.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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