For the first time since his return to Canada from Guantánamo in September 2012, Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen and former child prisoner of the US, has been downgraded from a high-security risk to a medium-security risk. The move punctures the prevailing rhetoric — from the government, and in the right-wing press — that Khadr is a dangerous individual.
This lamentable rhetoric is the product of three particular factors: racism and/or Islamophobia; a hypocritical refusal to recognize the rights of child prisoners, despite a Supreme Court judgment that was severely critical of the government; and a deliberate refusal to recognise that Khadr’s plea deal at a military commission trial in Guantánamo had nothing to do with justice and guilt, and was agreed to solely to secure his release from Guantánamo, and his return home to Canada, where he was born 27 years ago.
Khadr was just 15 years old when he was seized by US forces, in a severely wounded state, after a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002. According to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which came into force in February 2002, and which both the US and Canada then ratified, juvenile prisoners — those under 18 when their alleged crimes take place — “require special protection.” The Optional Protocol specifically recognizes “the special needs of those children who are particularly vulnerable to recruitment or use in hostilities”, and requires its signatories to promote “the physical and psychosocial rehabilitation and social reintegration of children who are victims of armed conflict.” Read the rest of this entry »
As we approach the 12th anniversary of the opening of the Bush administration’s “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba (on January 11, 2014), it remains profoundly unacceptable that, of the remaining 164 prisoners, 84 were cleared for release nearly four years ago, in January 2010, by a high-level, inter-agency task force appointed by President Obama shortly after he took office in 2009.
These men are still held because of legislative obstacles raised by Congress in the National Defense Authorization Act, which are designed to prevent prisoners from being released, and because President Obama has been unwilling to spend political capital challenging Congress or bypassing lawmakers using a waiver in the NDAA.
In the cases of two-thirds of the cleared prisoners, an additional complication, until recently, was that they are Yemeni citizens, and after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a NIgerian recruited in Yemen, tried and failed to blow up a bomb on a plane bound for Detroit in December 2009, President Obama imposed a ban on releasing Yemenis from Guantánamo, which he only lifted in May this year, in a major speech on national security issues. Read the rest of this entry »
Well, what a lovely place Britain is these days. For the last two weeks, Raquel Rolnik, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on housing, has been visiting the UK to “monitor and promote the realisation of the right to adequate housing,” visiting London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast and Manchester, where, as a UN press release explained, “she met with government officials working on housing issues, various human rights commissions, academics and civil society.” She “also carried out site visits, where she heard first-hand testimonies and discussed with individuals, campaigners and local community organisations.”
However, when she dared to criticise the deteriorating state of Britain’s social housing provision, and to call for the “bedroom tax” to be scrapped, she was laid into by senior Tories, and by the right-wing media, in a series of vile and hysterical outbursts that ought to be a disgrace to any country that claims to be civilised.
The “bedroom tax” is a widely reviled policy dreamed up by the millionaires in the Tories’ cabinet, which provides financial penalties for people living in social housing and in receipt of benefits who are deemed to have a spare room. It is forcing many people to move from homes they have lived in for decades, even though there are very few smaller properties to which they can move. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
Since the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo began, four months ago, it has been reassuring to see international organizations, the mainstream media and nearly a million members of the public (through various petitions) queuing up to criticize President Obama, and to urge him to address the reasons for the hunger strike, to resume the release of prisoners — especially of the 86 men (out of 166 in total), who were cleared for release by an inter-agency task force he established in 2009, and to revive his long-abandoned promise to close the prison once and for all.
It took the desperation of the prisoners to reach this point, even though their abandonment by all three branches of the US government has been evident since 2010, when President Obama failed to fulfill his promise to close the prison within a year, when Congress ramped up its opposition to the President’s plans, and when judges in the court of appeals in Washington D.C. passed rulings that prevented any prisoner from being released through the courts, by rewriting the rules governing their habeas corpus petitions, and ordering the judges examining their habeas petitions to regard every claim put forward by the government — however ludicrous — as accurate.
Once the news of the hunger strike began to seep out of Guantánamo, the pressure on President Obama led to him finally addressing the problems highlighted by the many critics of his inaction, first in a news conference at the White House, and then, on May 23, in a major speech on national security issues at the National Defense University, in which he said, “I am appointing a new, senior envoy at the State Department and Defense Department whose sole responsibility will be to achieve the transfer of detainees to third countries. I am lifting the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, so we can review them on a case by case basis. To the greatest extent possible, we will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries.” Read the rest of this entry »
I’m delighted to report that, in recognition of my work on Guantánamo and the “war on terror” over the last seven years (including being the lead writer on the sections of a report on secret detention for the United Nations in 2010 dealing with US secret detention since 9/11, and being a media partner of WikiLeaks for the release of classified military files from Guantánamo in 2011), I’ve been short-listed for the prestigious Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, dedicated to the memory of Martha Gellhorn (1908-1998), one of the great war correspondents of the 20th century.
The prize was established in 1999, and previous winners include Nick Davies, Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, Dahr Jamail, Mohammed Omer, Ian Cobain, Julian Assange and Gareth Porter.
As noted by the Committee (James Fox, Jeremy Harding, Cynthia Kee, Alexander Matthews, Shirlee Matthews and John Pilger), the prize is “awarded to a journalist whose work has penetrated the established version of events and told an unpalatable truth, validated by powerful facts, that exposes establishment propaganda, or ‘official drivel’ as Martha Gellhorn called it.” Read the rest of this entry »
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.
The ongoing hunger strike at Guantánamo is now in its third month, and shows no sign of coming to an end. As stories have emerged from the prisoners, via their lawyers, we have learned that it was inspired by deteriorating conditions at the prison, and by the prisoners’ despair at ever being released.
Their despair, sadly, is understandable.
Although 86 of the remaining 166 prisoners were cleared for release at least three years ago by an inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force established by President Obama, they are still held because of cynical Congressional obstruction, and weakness on the part of President Obama — in particular through his failure to close the prison, as he promised when he took office, and because of a ban he imposed in January 2010 on releasing any cleared Yemenis, who make up two-thirds of the cleared prisoners, which he issued in the wake of a failed bomb plot involving a Nigerian man recruited in Yemen. Read the rest of this entry »
Injustices do not become any less unjust the longer they are not addressed, and when it comes to the “war on terror” launched by President Bush following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, those injustices continue to fester, and to poison America’s soul.
One of those injustices is Guantánamo, where 166 men are still imprisoned, even though 86 of them were cleared for release by a task force established by the President four years ago, and another is Bagram in Afghanistan (renamed and rebranded the Parwan Detention Facility), where the Geneva Conventions were torn up by George W. Bush, and have not been reinstated, and where foreign prisoners seized elsewhere and rendered to US custody in Afghanistan remain imprisoned. Some of these men have been held for as long as the men in Guantánamo, but without being allowed the rights to be visited by civilian lawyers, which the men in Cuba were twice granted by the Supreme Court — in 2004 and 2008 — even if those rights have now been taken away by judges in the Court of Appeals in Washington D.C., demonstrating a susceptibility to the general hysteria regarding the “war on terror,” rather than a desire to bring justice to the men in Guantánamo.
Another profound injustice — involving the kidnapping of prisoners anywhere in the world, and their rendition to “black sites” run by the CIA, or to torture dungeons in other countries — also remains unaddressed. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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 »
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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