Guantánamo, The Torture Report and Human Rights Day: America’s Unaddressed Legacy of Torture and Arbitrary Detention

A graphic dealing with CIA torture report, whose executive summary was released in December 2014.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.

 

This time of year has always been a significant time for anyone concerned with human rights to reflect on what has or hasn’t been achieved in the last twelve months, and to make plans for the new year.

A crucial, and long established date is December 10, which the United Nations designated as Human Rights Day in 1950, on the second anniversary of the ratification by the UN of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which, in a Facebook post on Human Rights Day, I described as “probably the most wonderful aspirational document in human history, born out of the soul-churning horrors of the Second World War.”

The UN, on its Human Rights Day page, says of the UDHR that it “sets out universal values and a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. It establishes the equal dignity and worth of every person. Thanks to the Declaration, and States’ commitments to its principles, the dignity of millions has been uplifted and the foundation for a more just world has been laid. While its promise is yet to be fully realized, the very fact that it has stood the test of time is testament to the enduring universality of its perennial values of equality, justice and human dignity.”

Amongst the UDHR’s 30 articles are prohibitions on the use of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and arbitrary arrest, as well as the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial, all of which have long been of great significance to those like myself who have been writing about Guantánamo and working to get the prison closed. Read the rest of this entry »

On Human Rights Day, A Call for the US to Close Guantánamo, and for the UK to Defend the Human Rights Act

Eleanor Roosevelt holds up a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Roosevelt, the wife of the former US president, who had a deep interest in the rights of refugees, was chosen to chair the UN Human Rights Commission, when it was established on February 16, 1946 to draft a Declaration of Human Rights.

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Over 60 years ago, in the wake of the horrors of World War II, when people with power and influence were determined to do whatever they could to prevent such barbarity from taking place again, the United Nations was established, the Geneva Conventions were rewritten, and representatives of 17 countries drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly exactly 67 years ago, on December 10, 1948. Human Rights Day itself was established 65 years ago, on December 10, 1950.

A powerful attempt to establish “a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations,” the UDHR set out, for the first time, and in 30 articles, fundamental human rights that were to be universally protected.

These include protection from torture and “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” protection from “arbitrary arrest,” and the right to “a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.” The UDHR also stated, “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.” Read the rest of this entry »

What Does It Say About the Tories That They Want to Scrap Human Rights Legislation?

The Human Rights Act, passed in 1998, which the Tories, idiotically, want to repeal.After last Thursday’s General Election, as the Tories entrench themselves in power, without even the need of Lib Dem stooges to prop them up, we hear that the Cabinet spent a whole minute thumping the table at their first meeting, demonstrating a gracelessness and arrogance that is typical of the bullies, sociopaths and misfits who make up the upper echelons of the party.

Through our broken electoral system, the Tories have convinced themselves they have a mandate for even more of the destruction to the British state than they undertook over the last five years, propped up by the Lib Dems, even though the 50.9% of the seats that they took came with the support of just 24.4% of those eligible to vote.

The Tories’ relentless war on the British state and the British people

Since 2010, the Tories have been waging a relentless war on the British state, and on anyone who is not wealthy, privatising anything that was not already privatised, and using taxpayers’ money to make publicly owned enterprises more attractive to private buyers (as with the sell-off of the Royal Mail, for example), and also using taxpayers to fund huge vanity projects like the Olympics. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Juliet Stevenson and David Morrissey Star in New Film About Shaker Aamer for Human Rights Day, Calling for His Release from Guantánamo

A screen shot of Juliet Stevenson from the short film the We Stand With Shaker campaign made for Human Rights Day, of Shaker Aamer's Declaration of No Human Rights, written in Guantanamo.Watch the video of Juliet Stevenson and David Morrissey reading from Shaker Aamer’s “Declaration of No Human Rights” below.

Yesterday, December 10, was Human Rights Day, marking the 66th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations (on December 10, 1948). Its 30 articles provided a benchmark for decent behaviour following the atrocities of the Second World War, and they have been enormously influential, leading, for example, to the UN Convention Against Torture, which was ratified in 1987.

However, after the dreadful terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the US swept aside laws and treaties dealing with the treatment of prisoners, embracing torture — as revealed on Tuesday in the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA torture program, which I wrote about here — and engaging in a widespread program of kidnapping (“extraordinary rendition”) and indefinite detention without charge or trial.

A bleakly iconic manifestation of the US governments post-9/11 flight from the law is Guantánamo, where 136 men still languish, hoping that the uproar over the CIA’s torture program and its network of”black sites” will not mean that they — who have also suffered, and continue to suffer the torture of open-ended arbitrary detention, and, in some cases, brutal force-feeding — will be overlooked. Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer’s Universal Declaration of No Human Rights, Part of Vice’s Compelling New Feature on Guantánamo

An edited version of the banner for Vice's important feature on Guantanamo, "Behind the Bars: Guantanamo Bay," published on November 10, 2014. Congratulations to Vice, which describes itself as “an ever-expanding galaxy of immersive, investigative, uncomfortable, and occasionally uncouth journalism,” who have shown up the mainstream media by publishing a major feature on November 10, “Behind the Bars: Guantánamo Bay,” consisting of 18 articles published simultaneously, all of which are about Guantánamo — some by Guantánamo prisoners themselves, as made available by their lawyers (particularly at Reprieve, the legal action charity), others by former personnel at the prison, and others by journalists. “Behind the Bars” is a new series, with future features focusing on prisoners in the UK, Russia and beyond.

Following an introduction by Vice’s Global Editor, Alex Miller, there are five articles by three prisoners, as follows:

  • The Declaration of No Human Rights” (cross-posted below) and “Colonel John Bogdan Has No Nose” by Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, long cleared for release but still held. In the second of these articles, Shaker focuses on Guantánamo’s recently retired warden, who oversaw a period of particular turmoil at the prison; in particular, the prison-wide hunger strike last year that finally awakened widespread outrage domestically and internationally about the plight of the prisoners.
  • What Happens When I Try to Give My Guantánamo Guards Presents” and “An Obituary for My Friend, Adnan Abdul Latif” by Emad Hassan, a Yemeni, cleared for release in 2009 by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, but still held, who as been on a hunger strike since 2007. Adnan Abdul Latif, a Yemeni who had serious mental health issues, was the last prisoner to die at Guantánamo, in September 2012, even though he too had long been cleared for release, so this tribute by Emad Hassan is particularly poignant.
  • My Road to Guantánamo” by Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), a Moroccan prisoner, also cleared for release in 2009, who tells the story of his capture and explains why he cannot return to Morocco and is seeking a third country to offer him a new home. In February this year, Reprieve made available a love letter by Younus to his wife Abla.

Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer in Guantánamo: I Am “239,” a “Package”; If My Children Call Me Daddy, Will I Know Who I Am?

On the 12th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, I can think of no better person to remind the world of the ongoing injustice of the prison than Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who has persistently challenged the cruelty and idiocy of his captors in the most articulate manner.

I have been writing about Shaker, who has been cleared for release since 2007, and who longs to be reunited with his wife and his four children in south London, for many years, and last year, when the men still held embarked on a prison-wide hunger strike to remind the world of their plight, Shaker’s words — issued via Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal action charity Reprieve, following phone calls with Shaker — regularly provided a powerful and informative commentary on the realities of life in the prison, as can readily be ascertained from the following accounts: From Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer Tells His Lawyer Disturbing Truths About the Hunger Strike, “People Are Dying Here,” Shaker Aamer Reports from Guantánamo, As Petition Calling for His Release Secures 100,000 Signatures and From Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer Tells BBC He Is “Falling Apart Like An Old Car”, as well as Shaker’s own op-eds in the Observer (in May), the Guardian (in June) and the Huffington Post (in November). Please also check out the CBS “60 Minutes” broadcast from Guantánamo, which was powerfully hijacked by Shaker shouting from his cell to attract the attention of Lesley Stahl.

Via Clive, Shaker has provided a statement that will be read out at today’s protest outside the White House, which I will be posting here very soon, but for now it’s my great pleasure to cross-post Shaker’s latest op-ed, as published last Sunday in the Observer, in which he reflected on his own dehumanization by his captors, and also highlighted the extent to which the US has betrayed the values it once upheld in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the basis of “national security” — which, sadly, has in fact been used by the authorities for 12 years as an excuse for numerous criminal activities for which no one has been held accountable, and which continue to keep 155 men at Guantánamo, mostly without charge or trial, and even though 77 of them have been cleared for release. Read the rest of this entry »

In Appeal for Moral Leadership, Jimmy Carter Calls for an End to Drone Attacks and the Closure of Guantánamo

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.

Last Sunday, in “A Cruel and Unusual Record,” an op-ed in the New York Times, just two days before the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, former US President Jimmy Carter delivered an impassioned plea for the US to undo the ruinous effects of ten years of the “war on terror” — or the “long war,” as it is now more fashionably known — and to regain its moral authority around the world.

The former President began by stating that the United States was “abandoning its role as the global champion of human rights,” and seized, in particular, on the fact that senior officials in the Obama administration “are targeting people to be assassinated abroad, including American citizens,” and the recent revelation that President Obama personally approves drone attacks based on a “kill list” as “only the most recent, disturbing proof of how far our nation’s violation of human rights has extended.” Read the rest of this entry »

London Vigil for Shaker Aamer, the Last British Resident in Guantánamo, on Human Rights Day, December 10, 2011

This Saturday, December 10, which is UN Human Rights Day, I’ll be attending a vigil for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, outside Downing Street. The event, arranged by the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, runs from 12 noon to 3 pm, and at 1 pm speakers — myself included — will be reading out the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, on the 63rd anniversary of its adoption by the United Nations. If you’re not familiar with the UDHR, I recommend reading them, as the 30 articles of the UDHR represent a concerted effort, after the horrors of the Second World War, to create guidelines for how to create a better world. Alarmingly, in Guantánamo — and elsewhere in the “war on terror” — the Bush administration trampled on the UDHR, and its guidelines — its important aspirations — have not been adequately reinstated by Barack Obama.

Speakers include:

Jeremy Corbyn MP (Lab, Islington North)
Jane Ellison MP (Con, Battersea — and Shaker’s MP)
Imam Suliman Gani (Tooting Mosque)
Lindsey German (Stop the War Coalition National Convenor)
Kate Hudson (Chair, CND)
Joy Hurcombe (Chair, Save Shaker Aamer Campaign)
Sabah Jawad (Iraqi Democrats Against Occupation)
Jean Lambert MEP
Bruce McKenzie (Wandsworth Green Party)
Carol Turner (Afghan Withdrawal Group Convenor)
Walter Wolfgang (Labour CND)
Andy Worthington (Journalist, author of “The Guantánamo Files”) Read the rest of this entry »

Happy Birthday, Amnesty International: Peter Benenson’s “The Forgotten Prisoners” Published 50 Years Ago Today

Exactly 50 years ago, on May 28, 1961, the Observer gave over its front page to an article entitled, “The Forgotten Prisoners,” by the lawyer Peter Benenson, who had conceived of a worldwide campaign, “Appeal for Amnesty,” to urge governments to release or give a fair trial to people imprisoned because of their political or religious views. Benenson drew on Article 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the extraordinary post-war manifesto for a better world, which had been launched 13 years before, and his appeal — with its description of “prisoners of conscience” and its immortal line, “if these feelings of disgust all over the world could be united into common action, something effective could be done” — immediately drew supporters.

Within a year, Amnesty International was formed, which, as a blog post stated yesterday, “has grown to a global movement of 3 million supporters, members and activists with 18 national sections and 850 groups in over 27 countries.” Along the way, Peter Benenson’s original vision has been broadened to include, from the 1980s onwards, work on refugees and human rights education. In 1991, Amnesty decided to promote all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in 2001 began to focus on “economic, social and cultural rights, paving the way for global campaigns on maternal mortality, slums and corporate accountability.”

On this important day, I’d like to wish Amnesty International a very happy 50th birthday, and to note how delighted I have been to work with Amnesty as part of its campaign to close Guantánamo and to secure justice for the prisoners still held there, including Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, particularly through the ongoing tour of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which I co-directed with Polly Nash. Mainly involving screenings to Amnesty student groups, the tour grew out of an invitation to speak at last year’s student conference in London. This was a wonderful and inspiring event, which, in turn, followed a screening of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” at Amnesty’s London headquarters in February 2010. 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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