Parliament and the People: Two Days of London Events About Guantánamo, Torture and the Military Commissions


Sam Raphael, Alka Pradhan, Andy Worthington and Carla Ferstman at an event about Guantanamo, torture and the military commissions at the University of Westminster on November 2, 2016 (photo via Gitmo Watch).

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So last week was an interesting week for events focused on Guantánamo, torture and the military commissions in London, as Alka Pradhan, a lawyer with the defense team for Ammar al-Baluchi (aka Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali), a “high-value detainee,” and one of five men facing a trial for his alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks, was in town, and as a result MPs who, for the most part, had been involved in the campaign to free Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, had arranged a Parliamentary meeting.

The meeting was also called to coincide with a visit from Andrew Tyrie MP (Conservative, Chichester), the chair of the long-standing All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition, and the election of officers for a new APPG on Guantánamo. It was chaired by Tom Brake MP (Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington), who held a Parliamentary meeting earlier this year for Mohamedou Ould Slahi, the torture victim and best-selling author who was recently released from Guantánamo, and attended by MPs including Chris Law (SNP, Dundee West), who will be the chair of the new APPG, and Andy Slaughter (Labour, Hammersmith), who, in 2014, visited Washington, D.C. to call for Shaker Aamer’s release with the Conservative MPs David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, and Jeremy Corbyn, before he became the leader of the Labour Party. Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion) and Mark Durkan (SDLP) were unable to make it to the meeting, but will also be involved in the APPG.

At the meeting, Alka briefed MPs on the story of her client, which I recently wrote about for Al-Jazeera, as he sought to persuade the US government to allow the UN Rapporteur for Torture to make an independent visit to Guantánamo to assess the conditions in which they are held, and to talk freely with them about their torture in CIA “black sites.” Unsurprisingly, no independent visit has been allowed, because the US government is determined to continue hiding evidence of the CIA’s torture program, despite the publication, nearly two years ago, of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the CIA’s torture program, with its damning verdict on the brutality and futility of the program, and the CIA’s repeated lies about it.

The Parliamentary meeting on Guantanamo on November 1, 2016, with Andrew Tyrie MP on the left, Chris Law MP in front of the door, Alka Pradhan to his left, and Tom Brake MP beneath the two photos on the wall (photo via Gitmo Watch).Alka was particularly hoping that MPs would maintain an interest in what the British government may have known about the “imprisonment of the “high-value detainees” in “black sites,” as allegations have been made of a plot that involved Heathrow, and the presumption, therefore, is that British agents would have been involved in interrogations, something that, unsurprisingly, has not been admitted by the British government, whose secrecy, unlike the US — where the system of checks and balances eventually led to the publication of the executive summary of the Senate torture report — can realistically be described as obsessive.

Alka also spoke about how the defense teams at Guantánamo have, essentially, been unable to obtain any information from the US government about the torture and abuse of their clients, explaining how the makers of the dreadful torture propaganda movie, Zero Dark Thirty, were given more information by the CIA than they have received, and she reminded MPs of the importance of the UK “not aiding and abetting an illegal trial.”

In further reflection on Britain’s role in the “war on terror,” Andrew Tyrie ran though the story of the APPG on Extraordinary Rendition, which he set up in December 2005, shortly after revelations first surfaced about the CIA’s “black sites,” and he spoke about discovering how rendition flights had stopped at Prestwick Airport in Glasgow, which he described as “refuelling the getaway car.”

He said that the Labour government had not been supportive of his efforts, but that, in 2009, he had had meetings with David Cameron and William Hague, who had promised to hold an inquiry. That inquiry — the Gibson Inquiry into UK involvement in rendition — was announced in July 2010, after the coalition government was formed, although lawyers and NGOs soon boycotted it, as it was intending to take evidence in secret, and had no interest tin hearing from the prisoners themselves.

The Gibson Inquiry fizzled out with a report, of sorts, at the end of 2013, but there were already calls for a renewed inquiry because of evidence, found in the ruins of Col. Gaddafi’s Libya, of British involvement in the rendition to Libya of political opponents of Col. Gaddafi, who were subsequently abused and imprisoned (see the latest on this long-running saga here). However, because the police were investigating the Libya claims, a new inquiry, or a resumption of the Gibson Inquiry, never took place.

The Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, joined calls for a renewed, judge-led inquiry, but in the meantime the years passed and this “stain on democracy,” in Tyrie’s words, continued to fester. For further information, see Ian Cobain’s Guardian article, Why did the Gibson inquiry into rendition disappear?

Asking how involved the British government was in the US rendition programme, Tyrie said that we didn’t know, but that it was clear that they were, from the evidence in the case of Binyam Mohamed, which I wrote about extensively from 2008 to 2010. See, for example, High Court rules against UK and US in case of Guantánamo torture victim Binyam Mohamed.

Returning to the present, Andrew Tyrie also pointed out that it is now nearly three years since the Gibson Inquiry concluded, and although investigatory powers were subsequently handed over to Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), there has “not been much progress.” The ISC is chaired by Dominic Grieve, who has made it clear that he wants to throughly investigate claims of British wrongdoing, but observers fear that, because the ISC reports to the Prime Minister, any critical findings will be suppressed. In November 2014, I reported how lawyers and NGOs continue to be dissatisfied with the government’s behaviour, in my article,  UK Human Rights Groups Dismiss Rendition and Torture Inquiry as a Whitewash.

As a result of the concerns about the ISC’s impartiality, calls for a proper, independent, judge-led inquiry are not going to go away, and it remains to be seen if there is a deadline by which the ISC’s work will be complete, and if it will prove to have been robust enough. As Andrew Tyrie stated, however, “I’d rather have a judge-led inquiry.”

The crowd at an event about Guantanamo, torture and the military commissions at the University of Westminster on November 2, 2016 (Photo: Andy Worthington).On Wednesday, I joined Alka and Carla Ferstman, the director of the anti-torture organisation Redress, for a packed-out event I had initiated, ‘Enshrined Injustice: Guantánamo, Torture and the Military Commissions’ — at the University of Westminster. The event was put together by Sam Raphael, senior lecturer at the university and the co-director (with Ruth Blakeley of the University of Kent) of The Rendition Project, which for several years now, has been providing detailed research into the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation (RDI) programme, and Sam did a great job promoting it.

Alka spoke first (after an introduction from Sam), largely reprising her presentation to the MPs. One new piece of information I gathered was that, over five years since al-Baluchi and the other four men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks were charged (for the first time since their abortive first charges in February 2008), only 15% of the material that should have been provided to the defence teams by the prosecution has actually been provided, a single, shocking fact that serves to demonstrate how broken the system is.

Andy Worthington speaking at an event about Guantanamo, torture and the military commissions at the University of Westminster on November 2, 2016 (photo via Gitmo Watch).I spoke next, running through a history of Guantánamo past and present, and how I came to understand the stories of the prisoners, and to appreciate the extent to which the prison has been an unmitigated disaster — including the failure to screen men on capture to ascertain whether they were combatants or civilians seized by mistake; the confusion of criminals (terrorists) with soldiers, in which soldiers also came to be regarded as terrorists, and both categories of men were regarded as human beings wth no rights whatsoever; the bounty payments made to the US’s Afghan and Pakistani allies, who were responsible for the capture of the overwhelming majority of the prisoners; and the use of torture and abuse to extract the false confessions that fill the prisoners military’ files, released by WikiLeaks in 2011. I also ran though Barack Obama’s history regarding Guantánamo, and the reasons for his failure to close the prison as he promised on his second day in office, and I also looked at whether he might get to close it before he leaves office (unlikely, but not impossible), and what to expect from his successor, whether it is Hillary Clinton or — alarmingly — Donald Trump.

Text from the promotional video for the Close Guantanamo campaign, shown as a world exclusive at the University of Westminster on November 2, 2016. It will be released on November 10.I also played, as a world exclusive, a two-minute promotional video for the Close Guantánamo campaign I founded with the US attorney Tom Wilner in 2012, which was made by Brendan Horstead, the drummer in my band The Four Fathers, featuring ‘Close Guantánamo,’ a new song I wrote for the band, images of people holding up posters reminding President Obama how many days he has left to close Guantánamo (taken throughout the year as part of the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative I launched in January), and messages about how people can get involved (see here). The video will be released on November 10, when President Obama will have just 70 days left to close Guantánamo before he leaves office.

Finally, Carla discussed Redress’s involvement in the case of another “high-value detainee” charged in connection with the 9/11 attacks — Mustafa al-Hawsawi — who, disturbingly, was subjected to anal rape — “rectal rehydration,’ in the US authorities’ words — in a “black site” in 2003. Carla explained that Redress had become involved in cases relating the European Court of Human Rights, regarding prisoners held in “black sites” in Poland, Romania and Lithuania, with al-Hawsawi having probably been held in Lithuania, and also in “black sites” in Afghanistan and Morocco.

She spoke about how the Senate report revealed that al-Hawsawi had become so ill during his torture — in Lithuania — the he had needed urgent medical treatment, but that, although the CIA had tried to access a local hospital, the Lithuanian authorities had refused, and so a third country had had to be found that would help.

The ECHR has already ruled in the cases of other “high-value detainees” — Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri — who were held in Poland, and as Carla pointed out, although the US refuses to cooperate with the European cases, the ECHR rulings mean that host countries must demand of the US that individuals held in “black sites” must not be subjected to the death penalty, and must receive a fair trial — something that cannot be said of Mustafa al-Hawsawi’s case at present.

This was a great event, and I look forward to further events soon, as, of course, Guantánamo is still not closed, and, even if it were, the military commissions will almost certainly continue, though they are not fit for purpose, and, moreover, there must one day be accountability for those who authorized torture, rendition and indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — 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 six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and 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, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

One Response

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, a report on two powerful and important events last week – a meeting of the new All-Party Parliamentary Group on Guantanamo, at which visiting US military commission attorney Alka Pradhan spoke, along with Andrew Tyrie MP, who set up the APPG on Extraordinary Rendition 11 years ago, and a panel discussion at the University of Westminster, moderated by Sam Raphael, at which I spoke, along with Alka and Carla Ferstman, the director of Redress. The struggle for accountability and justice continues.

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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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