If you have the time to watch a 46-minute video about Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen and former child prisoner held at Guantánamo for 11 years, then I heartily recommend the recording of a recent talk in Canada by Sam Morison, a civilian lawyer working for the US Department of Defense, who recently submitted an appeal against Khadr’s 2010 conviction in his trial by military commission, as I explained in an article two weeks ago entitled, “‘He Didn’t Commit a War Crime’: Omar Khadr’s US Lawyer Challenges His Conviction at Guantánamo.”
The video of the talk, which took place at The King’s University College in Edmonton, was posted on the website of the Free Omar Khadr campaign, and is posted below, via YouTube. It was organized by the University of Alberta’s Chester Ronning Centre for the Study of Religion and Public Life and the Micah Centre at The King’s University College, and a previous talk (also posted below) featured Retired Brig. Gen. Stephen Xenakis, MD, a psychiatrist who spent hundreds of hours with Omar Khadr at Guantánamo. Both events took place under the heading “Omar Khadr: The Man – The Law.”
Morison, who “has practiced law for more than 20 years and is a nationally recognized expert on federal executive clemency and the restoration of civil rights,” as his website describes him, delivered a compelling explanation for why Khadr is not guilty of war crimes, when the appeal was submitted. Khadr accepted a plea deal in October 2010, pleading guilty to five crimes, including killing a US soldier by throwing a grenade during the firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002 that led to his capture, but there is no evidence that he actually threw the grenade, and he only accepted the plea deal as a way to leave Guantánamo, receiving an eight-year sentence in exchange. Read the rest of this entry »
In the long and ignoble history of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, those who have fought to secure its closure have generally labored without the kind of celebrity endorsement that tends to secure mass appeal for political causes. This year, however, celebrities began to take notice when the majority of the 164 prisoners still held embarked on a hunger strike to draw the world’s attention to their ongoing plight, and to remind people that over half of them — 84 men in total — had been cleared for release by an inter-agency task force that President Obama established shortly after taking office In January 2009.
The fact that these men were still held — and that justice appeared to have gone AWOL in the cases of the majority other prisoners still held — encouraged the best-selling novelist John Grisham to write an op-ed about Guantánamo for the New York Times on August (which I wrote about here), focusing on the case of Nabil Hadjarab, an Algerian national, who, Grisham discovered, had been prevented from reading his books. Nabil was freed soon after, although sadly the decision by the British singer-songwriter P.J. Harvey to record a song about Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, did not lead to his release, although nearly 100,000 people have listened to the song.
The latest celebrity to call for the closure of Guantánamo is Esperanza Spalding, a singer, songwriter and bassist who won a Grammy for Best New Artist in 2011. Her song, “We Are America,” with its accompanying video that features cameos by Stevie Wonder, Harry Belafonte and Janelle Monáe, is posted below, and is excellent — a soulful call for justice that ought to be rallying cry for all Americans who believe in the law, and who ought to be appalled that men are being held indefinitely without charge or trial at Guantánamo. Read the rest of this entry »
Below is a powerful new animated film, six minutes in length, which tells the story of the hunger strike at Guantánamo that began in February, and involved the majority of the 164 prisoners still held over the six-month period that followed. At its height, 46 prisoners were being force-fed, and even though just 17 prisoners are still taking part in the hunger strike, 16 of them are being force-fed. Force-feeding is a brutal process, condemned by the medical profession, but it is difficult to understand what is happening at Guantánamo because no images are available of prisoners being force-fed.
To overcome the difficulty for people to empathize with people whose suffering is deliberately kept hidden, the new animated film, “Guantánamo Bay: The Hunger Strikes,” produced by Mustafa Khalili and Guy Grandjean of the Guardian, and the animation company Sherbet, features the testimony of four prisoners, all of whom have been cleared for release but are still held (a situation in which 84 of the remaining 164 prisoners find themselves). The film, which depicts life in the prison, including the horrible reality of force-feeding, is narrated by the actors David Morrisey and Peter Capaldi. See here for an account of the making of the film in today’s Observer, and see here for David Morrissey’s comments about it.
The men whose stories are featured are Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, Younus Chekhouri (aka Younous Chekkouri), a Moroccan who has strong ties to Germany, Samir Moqbel (aka Mukbel), a Yemeni whose op-ed in the New York Times in April drew attention to the hunger strike, and Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian who lived in the UK before his capture. The film also includes testimony from Nabil Hadjarab, one of just two prisoners released since President Obama promised to resume releasing cleared prisoners in May, and all of the statements were provided by the men’s lawyers at Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity. Read the rest of this entry »
Suddenly I’m talking to people on the radio all the time — for the first time since the height of the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo a few months back. I’ll shortly be speaking to an old friend, Peter B. Collins in San Francisco, and on Sunday I’ll be speaking to another old friend, Jackie Chase at Radio Free Brighton, and I’ll be making those shows available as soon as they’re online. On Saturday, I spoke to Chuck Mertz in Chicago for “This is Hell” (which I publicized here), and in the interests of completeness I’m posting here a couple of shows I did recently that I haven’t made available until now.
The first show was a half-hour interview with Linda Olson-Osterlund on KBOO FM in Portland,Oregon, which I wasn’t able to make available until now because of problems with KBOO FM’s website. These have now been resolved, and the interview is available here (or via the webpage here). Linda and I have been discussing Guantánamo for many years, and, although it is never a happy occasion to have to talk about Guantánamo, it was good to be able to discuss at length the ongoing injustice of the prison, the failure to close it, and the responsibilities for that failure, which lie with all three branches of the US government — the Obama administration, Congress and parts of the judiciary; specifically, the court of appeals in Washington D.C. and the Supreme Court.
The spur for our discussion was the release of two Algerian prisoners, and it is a sign of how very wrong things are at Guantánamo that they were the first two prisoners to be freed as a result of the wishes of the Obama administration — rather than through a court order or a plea deal in the military commission trials — since September 2010. The two men had been cleared for release in January 2010 by the inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established when he took office in January 2009, but while they have finally been released, 84 other men, also cleared for release by the task force, continue to be held, because of Congressional obstruction, and President Obama’s unwillingness to spend political capital overcoming the obstacles raised by Congress. Read the rest of this entry »
In the busy months in spring, when the prisoners at Guantánamo forced the world to remember their plight by embarking on a prison-wide hunger strike, I was so busy covering developments, reporting the prisoners’ stories, and campaigning for President Obama to take decisive action that I missed a number of other related stories.
In the last few weeks, I’ve revisited some of these stories — of Sufyian Barhoumi, an Algerian who wants to be tried; of Ahmed Zuhair, a long-term hunger striker, now a free man; and of Abdul Aziz Naji, persecuted after his release in Algeria.
As I continue to catch up on stories I missed, I’m delighted to revisit the story of Ahmed Errachidi, a Moroccan prisoner, released in 2007, whose story has long been close to my heart. In March, Chatto & Windus published Ahmed’s account of his experiences, written with Gillian Slovo and entitled, The General: The Ordinary Man Who Challenged Guantánamo.
As I explained in an article two years ago, when an excerpt from the book was first showcased in Granta:
[In 2006,] when I first began researching the stories of the Guantánamo prisoners in depth, for my book The Guantánamo Files, one of the most distinctive and resonant voices in defense of the prisoners and their trampled rights as human beings was Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal action charity Reprieve, whose lawyers represented dozens of prisoners held at Guantánamo.
One of the men represented by Stafford Smith and Reprieve was Ahmed Errachidi, a Moroccan chef who had worked in London for 16 years before his capture in Pakistan, were he had traveled as part of a wild scheme to raise money for an operation that his son needed. What made Ahmed’s story so affecting were three factors: firstly, that he was bipolar, and had suffered horribly in Guantánamo, where his mental health issues had not been taken into account; secondly, that he had been a passionate defender of the prisoners’ rights, and had been persistently punished as result, although he eventually won a concession, when the authorities agreed to no longer refer to prisoners as “packages” when they were moved about the prison; and thirdly, that he had been freed after Stafford Smith proved that, while he was supposed to have been at a training camp in Afghanistan, he was actually cooking in a restaurant on the King’s Road in London. Read the rest of this entry »
Six weeks ago, on June 26, 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 posted the first half of a newly released 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 documentary, which looks at the many ways in which the most senior figures in the Bush administration — including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld — have escaped accountability for the crimes committed in the “war on terror” declared after the 9/11 attacks, 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.
The producer, John Odam, has just sent me a link to the second part of this powerful documentary, on YouTube, which I’ve made available below, along with the first part. It features all of the experts interviewed in the first half, as well as Stephen Zunes, a Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco. Read the rest of this entry »
On Wednesday evening, I spoke to RT about the verdict in the trial by court-martial of Pfc. Bradley Manning, following his conviction on 20 charges, including espionage and theft, which was announced by the judge in his case, Army Col. Denise Lind, on Monday. My five-minute interview is available below, via YouTube.
Significantly, Judge Lind refused to convict Manning on the most serious charge — that of “aiding the enemy,” which the prosecution had tried to claim proved that Manning had “general evil intent” when he leaked hundreds of thousands of classified US government documents, including the “Collateral Murder” video, featuring US personnel indiscriminately killing civilians and two Reuters reporters in Iraq, 500,000 army reports (the Afghan War logs and the Iraq War logs), 250,000 US diplomatic cables, and the Guantánamo files, released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, on which I worked as a media partner.
However, that was the only good news on Monday, as Manning still faces 136 years in prison based on the other charges, which is a horrendous situation. Asked about it, I explained that it is an unacceptable ruling for whistleblowers, motivated, as Manning was, to make available information that is in the public interest — about war crimes, for example — that the US government wanted to keep hidden, and I also pointed out how the mainstream media evidently agreed, having used what he leaked to sell newspapers and attract viewers for news programs for many months in 2010 and 2011.
In my opinion, the only sentence Manning should receive is one based on the ten charges he admitted to voluntarily in February. As the Guardian explained at the time, the charges to which he pleaded guilty “carry a two-year maximum sentence each, committing Manning to a possible upper limit of 20 years in military prison.”
Nevertheless, I hasten to add that, although I follow the logic of Manning receiving a sentence based on those charges, because of the US military’s rules, I don’t believe it would be fair, when, as I discuss in the interview, his various revelations were not crimes, but immensely useful leaks in the public interest, and, of course, it is completely unacceptable that those who committed the crimes he exposed — and particularly senior officials in the Bush administration, up to and including the President — have not been held accountable for their actions.
As the sentencing phase continues, my hope is that the case against Manning will crumble still further. Certainly, on Wednesday, the testimony of Brig. Gen. Robert Carr, a senior counter-intelligence officer who headed the Information Review Task Force that investigated the impact of WikiLeaks disclosures on behalf of the Defense Department, was extremely important. As the Guardian explained, he told the court that “they had uncovered no specific examples of anyone who had lost his or her life in reprisals that followed the publication of the disclosures on the internet.”
As the Guardian added, “It has been one of the main criticisms of the WikiLeaks publications that they put lives at risk, particularly in Iran and Afghanistan. The admission by the Pentagon’s chief investigator into the fallout from WikiLeaks that no such casualties were identified marks a significant undermining of such arguments.”
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for 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).
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 four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
Last Thursday, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign — dedicated to securing the release from Guantánamo of the last British resident in the prison — held its final vigil outside Parliament prior to MPs’ summer recess. The campaigners had been holding lunchtime vigils on weekdays since May, and I was delighted to turn up to show my support. Please see below for a three-minute video in which I explained why the vigil was taking place, which was recorded by a representative of the PCS union.
It is, of course, outrageous that Shaker is still held, as he was cleared for release under President Bush in 2007, and again under President Obama in January 2010, along with 85 of the other 166 men still held. Opportunistic opposition to the release of prisoners by lawmakers in Congress, and shameful inaction on the part of President Obama are responsible for keeping these 86 men in Guantánamo.
Moreover, there are still no signs that any of the men will be released, even though they have been on a hunger strike to highlight their plight since February, and two months ago President Obama, responding to unparalleled criticism internationally and domestically, promised to resume releasing prisoners.
Please see below for the video, and if you like it, please feel free to share it: Read the rest of this entry »
Last Friday, on Day 150 of the ongoing hunger strike at Guantánamo, I provided a round-up of the terrible situation at the prison for RT. Interviewed in a studio on a boat on the Thames, while lunchtime drinkers soaked up the sun on the lower decks, where there is a bar, I was asked why it was so hard for the US to release or transfer to the US mainland prisoners that it costs nearly a million dollars each, per year, to hold at Guantánamo.
I explained that, although opposition has been raised by Congress, President Obama has proven to be “unwilling to spend the political capital” to release any of the 86 men (out of 166 in total) who were cleared for release by his inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force three and a half years ago. I spoke about his “fine speech” on May 23 when he said he was going to resume releasing prisoners — but has not released anyone since — and reminded viewers of the “new tyranny” of the US, at a time when, ironically, the nation was celebrating its freedom, 237 years ago, from the tyranny of British rule.
Asked about the force-feeding in Guantánamo, where 45 of the 120 men who have been on a hunger strike for five months are being force-fed, I explained how “medical professionals all agree that it is wrong to force-feed a mentally competent prisoner, and that force-feeding is a form of torture,” but pointed out that allowing prisoners to die would be a PR disaster for the US. I stressed, however, that we always need to look at political issues behind the hunger strike and the force-feeding. Read the rest of this entry »
My friends and colleagues at Reprieve, the legal action charity whose lawyers represent 15 prisoners in Guantánamo, have just launched a campaign, “Stand Fast for Justice,” in which they are encouraging people to fast in solidarity with the prisoners at Guantánamo, 120 of whom are taking part in a hunger strike that is now in its sixth month. As the website states, “Stand for your belief in basic human rights. Fast to relieve an unjustly-treated detainee. Start your own hunger strike in solidarity — for hours or days, any support helps.”
To launch the #Standfast campaign, the rapper and actor Mos Def (now known as Yasiin Bey) agreed to be force-fed according to the Standard Operating Procedure for force-feeding prisoners at Guantánamo, which was obtained in May by Jason Leopold of Al-Jazeera.
The harrowing results are below, in a four-minute film, made by Reprieve and the Bafta award-winning director Asif Kapadia, in which Yasiin Bey found the procedure so harrowing that he was unable to continue with it. As the Guardian described it, “When the first tube was dislodged, he was unable to go ahead with a second attempt by the medical team to insert it.”
Breaking down, he said, “I can’t do it,” and afterwards explained, The first part of it is not that bad but then you get this burning and then it just starts to get really unbearable and it starts to feel like somethings going into your brain, and then it reached the back of my throat, and I really just couldn’t take it.” Read the rest of this entry »
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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