Please Read “Britain’s Latest Counter-Terrorism Disasters,” My New Article for Al-Jazeera About Diego Garcia, Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan


Dear friends and supporters,

I’ve been away since last Wednesday, but I hope that you have time to read my latest article for Al-Jazeera, “Britain’s Latest Counter-Terrorism Disasters,” if you didn’t see it when it was published on the day of my departure (to the WOMAD festival in Wiltshire) and to like it, share it and tweet it if you find it of interest. It concerns two recent problems with the UK’s conduct in the “war on terror” — specifically, the latest embarrassment about British knowledge of what the US was doing with terror suspects on the UK’s Indian Ocean territory of Diego Garcia (a story that has been bubbling away for nearly 12 years), and the colossal waste of time and effort involved in the long UK detention without charge or trial of two British citizens, Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan (held for eight and six years), their extradition to the US in October 2012, their plea deals last December and their sentencing last week, which has led to an order for Talha Ahsan’s immediate release, and a sentence for Babar Ahmad that will probably see him freed in the UK in just over a year.

The US, of course, is severely to blame for both of these policy disasters — through its policy of extraordinary rendition and CIA “black sites” under the Bush administration, which the UK readily supported, and through the UK-US Extradition Act of 2003, which was used to extradite Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad, even though it is clearly not a well-functioning system, as the UK government conceded that the two men could not have been put on trial in the UK.

Back in 2008 and 2009, in particular, I wrote extensively about Britain’s revolting counter-terrorism policies in the wake of 9/11: about the high-level attempts to hide British complicity in the torture of Binyam Mohamed, a British resident held in Guantánamo, who had been tortured in Morocco; about the foreign nationals held without charge or trial in the UK, on the basis of secret evidence presented in closed sessions in a special national security court, and the others — including British nationals — held on control orders, a form of house arrest that also involved secret evidence and no trials; and, on occasion, about Diego Garcia (see here, and see my Guardian article here).

Since the Tories seized power with the help of the Liberal Democrats in May 2010, the active threats to the fabric of British society have been severe that, in addition to my Guantánamo work, I have generally only had time to focus, when time has allowed, on the government’s war on the NHS and its assault on the poor, the unemployed and the disabled, although I did try to keep up with the story of Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan (see here and here). I am also involved in pushing for the release of Shaker Aamer, the last British prisoner in Guantánamo, and in recent months I have also covered the government’s terrible citizenship-stripping policy (see here, here and here), and the extremely dubious arrest of former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg (see here and here).

I’m delighted that this current opportunity arose for me to revisit, for Al-Jazeera, Britain’s counter-terrorism policies through these two examples, and I hope to find time to address other matters of concern, regarding this disgraceful government, over the coming months.

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).

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8 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Peter B. Collins wrote:

    More great reporting, Andy! I did not find your report on AJAM, please ask your editors to let Americans see it, too!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, Peter. I guess I need to try and interest AJAM in my writing as well as AJE. You have access to AJE OK though, yes? No problems accessing my article – or any others?

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Peter B. Collins wrote:

    I got it through your link–I browse AJAM daily, but only go to AJE via links like yours. And their AJAM cable channel is building cred and viewers. To be clear, there’s no barrier to accessing AJE from US.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    No, I thought not, Peter. Just worth checking though. The BBC World News channel, for example, which I’ve appeared on a few times, is available everywhere except the UK.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Peter B. Collins wrote:”

    and an afterthought: the EU court order to Poland to pay damages to Abu Zubaydeh and one other is more proof of US torture and black sites

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the additional info, Peter. I was notified about the Abu Zubaydah ruling by email, but I haven’t had the opportunity yet to look into it in any detail. Clearly, though, it’s a very important ruling, and a reminder to the US that, although their political and judicial establishment may not care, other jurisdictions are still capable of remembering why torture is a crime.

  7. arcticredriver says...

    Thanks Andy!

    As I read the following passage from your article I was struck by how many times US officials have given firm assurances of “facts” that were wildly untrue:

    “The detainees did not leave the plane,” Miliband explained, “and the US Government has assured us that no US detainees have ever been held on Diego Garcia.”

    * Recently, very shortly before the public learned that the NSA had been monitoring the metadata of every single phone call made by every single American, the Director of the NSA perjured himself in sworn testimony before a Congressional Committee. He assured them that the NSA didn’t “intentionally” monitor Americans.
    * There was the hocus pocus as to how many youths and children the USA kept at Guantanamo. The official list of captives stated the actual or estimated dates of birth of the captives. So, people like you and I and Clive Stafford Smith, knew that even going by their own estimates, they held almost two dozen youths. But, some years later, the DoD claimed they only held three youths — the three who had been held in Camp Iguana.
    * There was the Sudanese suspect facing charges before the military commissions. During his first hearing he told the judge he wasn’t receiving mail from his relatives in Sudan, and wanted them to choose a lawyer, from Sudan, to add to his defense team. The Judge directed that arrangements be made for this man to make his first phone call to his relatives. A day or two later a public affairs officer, one of Commander Gordon’s colleagues, assured the visiting press that the camp authorities had already complied, and that the call had already been made. Carol Rosenberg was surprised, because she knew how complicated it is to arrange such calls for the first time. She contacted the suspect’s military lawyer, who was also very surprised, as she thought she would have been informed if the call had been made. Of course the call had not been made. But since just about everything at Guantanamo is secret the public affairs officers seem to have routinely just made stuff up.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver, for those few examples of how the first casualty of war – or the “war on terror” or perhaps, increasingly, the actions of governments in general – is the truth. Miliband’s quote shows how often we should regard the exact opposite of whatever elected officials say as the truth.
    Your last quote sums up Guantanamo perfectly: “since just about everything at Guantanamo is secret the public affairs officers seem to have routinely just made stuff up.”

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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