As Theresa May Becomes Prime Minister, A Look Back at Her Authoritarianism, Islamophobia and Harshness on Immigration

Theresa May, Britain's new Prime Minister, making her first speech as PM. I slightly edited the banner behind her.First off, it says little for democracy that, after the biggest constitutional crisis in most of our lifetimes (the result of the EU referendum, which may take years to resolve), the Conservative Party has responded by having just 199 MPs anoint a new leader to run the country after David Cameron, aging 20 years overnight, bumbled off into the sunset of a poisoned legacy.

Cameron, it is assumed, will forever be known as the worst Prime Minister since Neville Chamberlain (or Anthony Eden), a so-called leader who, because he was too cowardly to face down critics who were even more right-wing than him — in his own party, and in UKIP — called a referendum that he was then too arrogant to believe he could lose. I was fearful at the time Cameron announced the referendum, in January 2013, that it could all go horribly wrong, and on the morning of June 24 my fears were confirmed as 17 million voters — a weird mix of political vandals, racists, xenophobes, left-wing idealists and the ill-informed — voted for us to leave the EU.

Cameron left his mess for others to clear up, and within days most of those who had run with his idiocy and had campaigned to get us out of Europe fell too. Nigel Farage announced that he was standing down as UKIP leader, hopefully doing us all a favour by, as a result, diminishing UKIP’s weird reptilian personality cult. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Guantánamo Mustn’t Be Forgotten in the Fallout from the CIA Torture Report

Anti-torture protestors outside the White House in May 2009, after President Obama's first 100 days in office.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.

It’s a week now since the 500-page executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,700-page report into the post-9/11 CIA torture program was published, and here at “Close Guantánamo,” we are concerned that (a) the necessary calls for accountability will fall silent as the days and weeks pass; and (b) that people will not be aware that the use of torture was not confined solely to the CIA’s “black sites,” and the specific program investigated by the Senate Committee, and that it was a key element of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 detention program — in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and in Guantánamo, where elements of the current operations can still be defined as torture.

The Senate Committee report contains new information, of course — much of it genuinely harrowing — but journalists and researchers uncovered much of the program over the last ten years, and that body of work — some of which I referred to in my article about the torture report for Al-Jazeera last week — will continue to be of great relevance as the executive summary is analyzed, and, hopefully, as the full report is eventually made public.

Mainly, though, as I mentioned in the introduction to this article, it is crucial that the news cycle is not allowed to move on without an insistence that there be accountability. The Senate report chronicles crimes, authorized at the highest levels of the Bush administration, implemented by the CIA and two outside contractors, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who had worked for a military program designed to train soldiers how to resist torture if captured, but who had no real-life experience of interrogations, or any knowledge of Al-Qaeda or the individuals involved (see Vice News’ extraordinary interview with Mitchell here). 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 »

The Long Pursuit of Accountability for the Bush Administration’s Torture Program

In June 2004, in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal, a notorious memo from August 2002 was leaked. It was written by John Yoo, a lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and it claimed to redefine torture and to authorize its use on prisoners seized in the “war on terror.” I had no idea at the time that its influence would prove to be so long-lasting.

Ten years and four months since it was first issued, this memo — one of two issued on the same day, which will forever be known as the “torture memos” — is still protecting the senior Bush administration officials who commissioned it (as well as Yoo, and his boss, Jay S. Bybee, who signed it).

Those officials include George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and their senior lawyers, Alberto Gonzales and David Addington. None of these men should be immune from prosecution, because torture is illegal under US domestic law, and is prohibited under the terms of the UN Convention Against Torture, which the US, under Ronald Reagan, signed in 1988 and ratified in 1994. As Article 2.2 states, unequivocally, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” Read the rest of this entry »

Ten Years of Torture: Marking the 10th Anniversary of John Yoo’s “Torture Memos”

Exactly ten years ago, on August 1, 2002, Jay S. Bybee, who, at the time, was the Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, signed two memos (see here and here) that will forever be known as the “torture memos.” Also known as the Bybee memos, because of Bybee’s signature on them, they were in fact mainly written by John Yoo, a law professor at UC Berkeley, who worked as a lawyer in the OLC from 2001 to 2003.

Although the OLC is supposed to provide impartial legal advice to the executive branch, Yoo was not interested in being impartial. As one of six lawyers close to Vice President Dick Cheney — along with David Addington, Cheney’s Legal Counsel, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, White House Deputy Counsel Tim Flanigan, William J. Haynes II, the Pentagon’s General Counsel, and his deputy, Daniel Dell’Orto — he played a significant role in formulating the notion that, in the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” prisoners could be held as “enemy combatants” without the traditional protections of the Geneva Conventions; in other words, without any rights whatsoever.

This position was confirmed in an executive order issued by President Bush on February 7, 2002, and was not officially challenged until the Supreme Court reminded the government, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld in June 2006, that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits torture and “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment,” applies to all prisoners seized in wartime. Read the rest of this entry »

On the 10th Anniversary of Yoo and Bybee’s “Torture Memos,” Col. Morris Davis Reminds Americans About Justice and the Law

Exactly ten years ago, two memos written by John Yoo, a lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, were signed by his immediate boss, Jay S. Bybee. In these two memos, Yoo, also a law professor at UC Berkeley, attempted to redefine torture so that it could be used on Abu Zubaydah, an alleged “high-value detainee” seized in the “war on terror,” even though the US is a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture, which prohibits the use of torture under any circumstances.

These two memos, generally known as the Bybee memos, but forever known to anyone with a conscience as the “torture memos,” marked the start of an official torture program that will forever be a black mark on America’s reputation — as well as providing cover for torturers worldwide, and turning America into such a dubious and lawless nation that President Obama and his administration have shied away form holding any of their predecessors accountable for their actions, and have swallowed the Bush administration’s rhetoric about a “war on terror” to such an extent that, although torture has been officially repudiated, the administration has presided over a massive increase in the use of unmanned drones to assassinate those regarded as a threat, without any judicial process, and in countries with which the US is not at war, including US citizens.

In an article to follow soon, I will examine this anniversary more closely, but for now I wanted to make sure that I marked it in some manner, having been away at the WOMAD world music festival for most of the run-up to it, and I’m delighted to use the occasion to cross-post an op-ed from the Los Angeles Times written by Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of the military commissions at Guantánamo, who resigned five years ago, when he was placed in a chain of command under William J. Haynes II, the Pentagon’s General Counsel, and one of the main drivers of the torture program. Read the rest of this entry »

On 25th Anniversary of UN Convention Against Torture, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s Lawyers Submit Case to Rapporteur

Exactly 25 years ago, on June 26, 1987, the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into force, and in December 1997, the UN General Assembly proclaimed June 26 the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, “with a view to the total eradication of torture and the effective functioning of the Convention against Torture.”

As is painfully clear today, despite the support of 150 countries, the use of torture is still rife, and many of the countries that claim to adhere to the Convention have, in fact, shown a cynical — and in some cases blatant — disregard for its provisions.

One of those countries is, of course, the United States of America, which, under President George W. Bush, cynically attempted to redefine torture so that it could be used on “high-value detainees” seized in the “war on terror” in a network of secret prisons, and, moreover, withdrew the protections of the Geneva Conventions from the prisoners in Guantánamo, who were also tortured, and also tortured prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq — most notoriously in Bagram, the “Dark Prison” and the “Salt Pit” in Afghanistan and Abu Ghraib in Iraq, although its use was also widespread at other locations in Iraq.

To date, no one — beyond a few low-level personnel who did not design the abusive detention and interrogation regime that was introduced after 9/11 — has been held accountable for these crimes, and in the meantime, numerous torture victims — including 13 of the 14 “high-value detainees” who were delivered to Guantánamo in September 2006 from secret torture prisons run by the CIA, where they had been held for up to four and a half years — remain imprisoned, with no indication, for most of them, of when, if ever, they will even receive a trial. Read the rest of this entry »

In the US, on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, A Glimmer of Hope Amidst the Hypocrisy

At the weekend, to mark the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, which takes place on June 26 each year, President Obama issued an extraordinary statement, declaring support for those working to eradicate the use of torture, and explaining that “[t]orture and abusive treatment violate our most deeply held values,” that they “do not enhance our national security,” that they “serv[e] as a recruiting tool for terrorists and further endanger[] the lives of American personnel,” and that they “are ineffective at developing useful, accurate information.”

The President was absolutely correct in his assessment of the problems with torture, and was also correct to point out how “President Reagan signed, and a bipartisan Senate coalition ratified” the UN Convention Against Torture, which came to force on June 26, 1987, and whose anniversary has been marked, since 1998, as the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

However, when President Obama wrote of “paying tribute to all those who are courageously working to eradicate these inhuman practices from our world, and reaffirming the commitment of the United States to achieving this important goal,” and of remaining “dedicated to supporting the efforts of other nations, as well as international and nongovernmental organizations, to eradicate torture through human rights training for security forces, improving prison and detention conditions, and encouraging the development and enforcement of strong laws that outlaw this abhorrent practice,” it was difficult not to ignore the stench of hypocrisy. Read the rest of this entry »

Rights Groups Tell Obama: Reward Those Who Opposed America’s Use of Torture in the “War on Terror”

In a significant gesture in the run-up to the UN International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, which takes place on June 26, and was inaugurated in 1998, on the 11th anniversary of the ratification of the UN Convention Against Torture, ten human rights groups in the US, including the ACLU, Amnesty International, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch and the PEN American Center, have sent a letter to President Obama, urging him to honor the overlooked lawyers, officials and soldiers who, under the Bush administration, took a stand against torture, often at great risk to their careers.

As the groups point out, these individuals — who include Sgt. Joe Darby, former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora, Col. Morris Davis, Lt. Col. V. Stuart Couch, Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld and former CIA Inspector General John Helgersen — upheld America’s values and its laws when the Bush administration had moved over to the “dark side” embraced by former Vice President Dick Cheney, and their contributions deserve to be officially acknowledged, especially as others who actively contributed to the illegal and immoral torture program were rewarded by President Bush.

Obviously, the elephant in the room, when it comes to asking President Obama to honor those who publicly opposed the Bush administration’s torture program, is that this should also be accompanied by a call for the officials who authorized the program (up to and including President Bush, who boasted about authorizing waterboarding — a crime — in his autobiography last year) or attempted to justify the torture program (like John Yoo and Jay S. Bybee in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, who wrote and approved what are now known as the “torture memos”) to be prosecuted according to the US federal anti-torture statute. 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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