No one who has spent any time studying and writing about Guantánamo, as I have, could fail to realize that, although the terrible innovation of Guantánamo is indefinite detention without charge or trial, its orange jumpsuits, and the perceived normality of solitary confinement as standard operating procedure, arrived at the prison directly from America’s domestic prison system — where there are 2.2 million prisoners (and almost 7 million people under correctional supervision (including probation and parole), and up to 100,000 prisoners are subjected to solitary confinement at any one time. Most harrowingly, many thousands of these prisoners are subjected to solitary confinement not as occasional punishment, but as a policy, and have spent years, or even decades without any human contact.
As Kevin Gosztola explained in July 2011, in an article for FireDogLake, “40 states and the federal government have supermax prisons holding upwards of 25,000 inmates. Tens of thousands more are held in solitary confinement in lockdown units within other prisons and jails. There’s no up-to-date nationwide count, but according to best estimates, there are at least 75,000 and perhaps more than 100,000 prisoners in solitary confinement on any given day in America.”
Over the years, I have endeavored to cover the horrors of solitary confinement in America’s prisons. In December 2010, I joined a call for a worldwide ban on the use of solitary confinement, and in 2011 I covered the hunger strikes that began in California’s notorious Pelican Bay facility — see here, here, here and here. I also cross-posted a hugely important article about long-term solitary confinement, “Hellhole,” written by Atul Gawande for the New Yorker in 2009, and in 2012 reported on calls by Professor Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, for an end to the use of solitary confinement, and an appeal to the UN by Pelican Bay prisoners. Read the rest of this entry »
UPDATE MAY 7: It has just been confirmed that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will now be taking part in this event, via video link from the Ecuadorian Embassy, from 7.30 to 8.15pm.
It’s almost three years since Pfc. Bradley Manning, who had been working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq, was arrested by the US military and imprisoned in Kuwait for allegedly making available — to the campaigning organization WikiLeaks — the largest collection of classified documents ever leaked to the public, including the “Collateral Murder” video, featuring US personnel indiscriminately killing civilians in Iraq, 500,000 army reports (the Afghan War logs and the Iraq War logs), 250,000 US diplomatic cables, and the classified military files relating to the Guantánamo prisoners, which were released in April 2011, and on which I worked as a media partner (see here for the first 34 parts of my 70-part, million-word series analyzing the Guantánamo files).
In July 2010, Manning was transferred to the Marine Corps Brig, Quantico, Virginia, where the conditions of his confinement began to cause international concern. I first wrote about his case in December 2010, when he was being held in solitary confinement, in an article entitled, “Is Bradley Manning Being Held as Some Sort of “Enemy Combatant”?” and I followed his story into 2011, and his transfer to less contentious conditions of confinement in Fort Leavenworth on April 20, just five days before WikiLeaks released the Guantánamo files.
In the last two years, I have largely deferred to other writers, researchers and activists, dedicated to Bradley Manning’s story, to cover developments in his case, particularly relating to a series of pre-trial hearings. His trial begins on June 3 (preceded by an international day of action on June 1), and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to revisit his story this Wednesday, May 8, at an event in London organized by Naomi Colvin and Katia Michaels, at which I am honoured to be sharing a stage with Chase Madar, the author of The Passion of Bradley Manning, and Ben Griffin, a former SAS soldier and conscientious objector. Read the rest of this entry »
The power of Islamophobia, it seems, is such that when a tabloid newspaper — the Daily Star — published an article with the headline “Mosque terror doc fundraiser,” claiming that “Britain’s biggest mosque is under investigation after it scheduled a fundraising event for a convicted would-be killer,” it led to the event being moved.
The mosque in question was the East London Mosque, in Whitechapel, and the alleged investigation was by the Charity Commission. The Star reported that the Charity Commission “said it had started a probe into the mosque,” and had “not yet launched a full investigation,” but was “looking into the issue.” That sounds very vague, but it was enough to get the mosque jumpy, and the event has, as a result, been moved to another venue in Whitechapel.
As for the “fundraising event for a convicted would-be killer,” another way of putting it would be that the Justice for Aafia Coalition (also see here) is putting on a fundraising event for a US-educated Pakistani neuroscientist who disappeared for nearly five and a half years, from March 2003 to July 2008, when, they contend, she was kidnapped and she and two of her three children were held in secret prisons run by or for the CIA and the US government. The third child, a baby at the time of her disappearance, may, it appears, have been shot and killed at the time of Dr. Siddiqui’s kidnapping. Read the rest of this entry »
Not content with having the largest domestic prison population in the world, both in numbers and as a percentage of the total population, the US also imports prisoners from other countries, at vast expense.
Last week, five men were extradited to the US from the UK to face charges relating to their alleged involvement with terrorism. The men’s extradition was supposed to have been made into a straightforward matter by the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who, in 2003, approved the US-UK Extradition Treaty, which purportedly allows prisoners to be extradited without the need for any evidence to be provided.
However, there have been sustained legal challenges to the treaty, with the result that, of the five men extradited last week, two British nationals, Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan, had been held without charge or trial in the UK for eight and six years respectively, and two foreign nationals, Adel Abdel Bary and Khaled al-Fawwaz, had been held without charge or trial since 1998, as their lawyers tried to prevent their extradition. The fifth man, Abu Hamza al-Masri, was the only one to have been imprisoned in the UK after a trial. Convicted in 2006, he was given a seven-year sentence. Read the rest of this entry »
Last Monday, the long struggle of five alleged “terror suspects” against their extradition to the US — under the much-criticised US-UK Extradition Treaty of 2003 — was struck an apparently fatal blow when the European Court of Human Rights refused to hear an appeal they had submitted after the Court first approved their extradition in April. The five men are Babar Ahmad, Syed Talha Ahsan, Mustafa Kamel Mustafa (better known as Abu Hamza al-Masri), Khaled al-Fawwaz and Adel Abdel Bary.
The decision is a blow to human rights defenders, who rightly believe that conditions in US Supermax prisons, where the men would end up, constitute torture, and that they have no chance of receiving a fair trial, as almost all trials involving Muslims accused of terrorism, or providing support to terrorism, end in convictions. It also ignores criticism of the treaty by British MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee, who, in March, criticised the Home Office for “failing to publish the evidence” that lay behind a review of the treaty, undertaken by Sir Scott Baker for the home secretary Teresa May, which, as the Independent put it, found that “it was balanced and there was no basis to see it as ‘unfair or oppressive.’” In contrast, the committee said it had “‘serious misgivings’ about some aspects of the US-UK arrangements and recommended the Government renegotiate the treaty.”
In response to the ruling, two of the men, Abu Hamza and Khaled al-Fawwaz, have launched immediate legal challenges, and in the cases of two others, Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan, a businessman, Karl Watkin, has launched a private prosecution to try to prevent their extradition, arguing that they should be tried in the UK because their alleged crime — hosting a pro-jihad website — took place in Britain. The US government argues that it has the right to try the two men, because one of the servers was located in the US. Read the rest of this entry »
On Sunday, in torrential rain, I cut short a dry afternoon in the Catford Bridge Tavern — a formerly notoriously rough pub reborn after its recent takeover by the Antic group, which is spacious, friendly, well-decorated, and which also does excellent food, including Sunday roasts — to take my bike on the train to Charing Cross, and, from there, to cycle up to Piccadilly and through Mayfair to Grosvenor Square, to speak at a protest outside the US Embassy to mark the second anniversary of the sentencing, in a court in New York, of Aafia Siddiqui.
The story of Aafia Siddiqui, which I have been covering for many years, remains one of the most disturbing in the whole of the Bush administration’s brutal “war on terror.” A Pakistani neuroscientist, she is currently two years into a horrendously unjust 86 year sentence in a prison hospital in Texas for allegedly having tried and failed, in August 2008, to shoot a number of US soldiers who were holding her in Ghazni, Afghanistan. This followed her resurfacing after a mysterious five and a half year absence, in which many people believe she was held in one or more secret CIA “black sites,” where she was severely abused and lost her mind.
Although the turnout for the protest, organised by the Justice for Aafia Coalition, was only moderate, numbers were swelled by the many thousands of people who had turned up for a protest about the terrible racist and Islamophobic video, “The Innocence of Muslims,” which, to my mind, like all examples of bigotry, is best ignored, to avoid providing the oxygen of publicity to those peddling such filth. However, the organisers of the Aafia Siddiqui protest were presented with an excellent opportunity to inform numerous people about the plight of Dr. Siddiqui, which was obviously useful. Read the rest of this entry »
Postscript July 6: I have just been informed that Talha and Babar’s lawyers have asked people NOT to send letters to the European Court of Human Rights, as they are submitting their own formal appeal. New campaigning tools will be announced soon.
As part of the campaign to prevent the extradition to the US of Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad — who, along with others, including Richard O’Dwyer and Gary McKinnon — face extradition to the US under the terms of the much-criticised US-UK Extradition Treaty, Talha’s brother Hamja has been working flat-out to promote a new documentary film, “Extradition,” which tells the stories of his brother and of Babar Ahmad, with screenings up and down the country. Directed by Turab Shah, the film features interviews with the human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce, the playwright Avaes Mohammad, the fathers of Babar and Talha, and Talha’s brother Hamja, all framed by Talha’s prison poetry.
On Wednesday July 4, and later in the month, I will be taking part in Q&A sessions following screenings in London, and I also want to alert readers in the London area to other screenings this week, on Friday July 6 and Saturday July 7.
As I explained in an article two weeks ago, promoting a meeting in the House of Commons to discuss the US-UK Extradition Treaty, it has been “a source of consternation since its establishment in 2003, as it allows British citizens to be extradited to the US for the flimsiest of reasons, where they will face a legal system that is, in many ways, out of control, in which cases that involve activities that can be described as providing material support for terrorism, for example, attract horrendously long sentences.” Read the rest of this entry »
Tomorrow, Wednesday, June 20, 2012, there is a meeting in the House of Commons to discuss the US-UK Extradition Treaty, a source of consternation since its establishment in 2003, as it allows British citizens to be extradited to the US for the flimsiest of reasons, where they will face a legal system that is, in many ways, out of control, in which cases that involve activities that can be described as providing material support for terrorism, for example, attract horrendously long sentences.
The meeting, in Committee Room 10, begins at 6 pm, and lasts until 8 pm, and features the following speakers:
Caroline Lucas MP
John Hemming MP
Sadiq Khan MP (Shadow Justice Secretary)
David Bermingham (Natwest Three)
Sir Iqbal Sacranie
Those facing extradition, whose cases will be discussed, are Talha Ahsan, Babar Ahmad, Gary McKinnon and Richard O’Dwyer. I discussed their cases back in April, after Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad had their appeal to the European Court of Human Rights turned down, and I recommend that article for anyone who wants to know more. Briefly, however, none of the men have ever visited the US, and summaries of their cases are as follows: Talha Ahsan is a poet and writer with Asperger’s syndrome who has been detained for six years without charge or trial; Babar Ahmad has been detained without charge or trial for eight years, longer than any other British citizen in modern British history (and both men are accused of alleged crimes involving web-based militant activity); Gary McKinnon, who also has Asperger’s Syndrome, is accused of hacking into US agency websites ten years ago and has been fighting extradition ever since; and Richard O’Dwyer is accused of breaching US copyright laws, despite the fact that what he is accused of does not constitute a crime in the UK. Read the rest of this entry »
On Christmas Day 2008, a comment by someone identifying themselves as Hesham Abu Zubaydah was submitted on an article I had written many months earlier, entitled, The Insignificance and Insanity of Abu Zubaydah: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Confirms FBI’s Doubts. This was the first of many articles I have written explaining how Abu Zubaydah, the “high-value detainee” for whom the Bush administration’s torture program was specifically developed, was not a senior al-Qaeda operative, as the administration claimed, but was instead the mentally damaged gatekeeper of a training camp, Khaldan, that was independent of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.
The comment read, “Yes that is my brother and I live in Oregon. Do you think I should have been locked away for 2 years with no charges for a act of a sibling? I am the younger brother of Zayn [Abu Zubydah's real name, Zayn al-Abidin Mohamed Husayn] and I live in the USA. Tell me what you think.”
In response, from what I recall, I responded to the comment, but did not hear anything back. With hindsight, I should have pursued it further, but I’m glad to note that, eventually, my friend and colleague Jason Leopold stumbled across the comment, tracked down Hesham in Florida, where he lives with his wife Jody, and began a 14-month investigation that resulted in the publication, yesterday, of EXCLUSIVE: From Hopeful Immigrant to FBI Informant – the Inside Story of the Other Abu Zubaidah, a 15,000-word article by Jason that was published by Truthout, where he is the lead investigative reporter, and where I am an occasional contributor. Read the rest of this entry »
Two years and two days since his arrest in Iraq on May 26, 2010, Pfc. Bradley Manning still awaits the start of his court-martial, as his lawyers and other sympathizers try to take the government to task for its secrecy regarding the 24-year old, who faces 22 charges, including “aiding the enemy,” a charge that, in theory, carries the death penalty, although prosecutors have said that they will not be pressing for his execution, if he is convicted.
Manning, a former US intelligence analyst, is the alleged whistleblower responsible for leaking thousands of classified US government documents to WikiLeaks, dealing with the Afghan and Iraq wars, and the prisoners in Guantánamo, as well as hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables. Held in damaging isolation for the first eleven months of his detention — in Kuwait and then at a military brig in Quantico, Virginia, he was then moved — after pressure was exerted by his many supporters, and by legal experts — to the Midwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he remains. His Article 32 hearing, preparing the way for his trial, took place last December, and he was referred to a general court-martial by the judge, Lt. Col. Paul Almanza. He was arraigned on February 23 this year, when he declined to enter a plea.
Now, as the Guardian reported last week, with hearings taking place prior to his court-martial, possibly in August, a coalition of lawyers and media outlets, led by the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, “has petitioned the Army court of criminal appeals calling for the court-martial against Manning to be opened up to the press and public,” claiming that his military trial “is being conducted amid far more secrecy than even the prosecution of the alleged 9/11 plotters in Guantánamo.” Read the rest of this entry »
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