Archive for June, 2019

A Rare Court Victory Offers Hope for Guantánamo’s “Forever Prisoners”

Guantánamo prisoner Khalid Qassim, in a photograph included in his classified military file, released by WikiLeaks in 2011, and ‘Titanic in Black and White,’ an artwork he made at Guantánamo in 2017, consisting of paint over gravel mixed with glue, which was included in the show ‘Art from Guantánamo Bay’ at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York in 2017-18.

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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.





 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the 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.

Anyone who has been following the alleged legal basis for the ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial of prisoners at Guantánamo should be encouraged by a ruling on June 21, 2019 by a three-judge panel — consisting of Judges Patricia A. Millett, Cornelia T. L. Pillard, and Harry T. Edwards — in the D.C. Circuit Court (the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia) in Qassim v. Trump, a case involving Khalid Qassim, a 41-year old Yemeni citizen who has been held at Guantánamo without charge or trial for over 17 years.

Close Guantánamo’s co-founder Tom Wilner argued the case before the court, and, as he explains, the court “reversed an eight-year rule that has prevented Guantánamo detainees from seeing and rebutting the evidence purportedly justifying their detentions,” as part of a ruling in which the judges granted Qassim’s request to reverse the District Court’s denial of his petition for habeas corpus.

To give some necessary perspective to the significance of the ruling, it is important to understand that, for most of Guantánamo’s history, the law has failed to offer them adequate protections against executive overreach. In a glaring demonstration of arrogant folly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration decided that anyone who ended up in US custody would be treated neither as a criminal (to be charged and put on trial), nor as a prisoner of war protected by the Geneva Conventions, who could be held unmolested until the end of hostilities. Instead, the prisoners were designated as “unlawful enemy combatants”; essentially, human beings without any rights whatsoever.

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On the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, Donald Trump is Holding Children in Detention Centers in Circumstances Comparable to “Torture Facilities”

Migrants outside a makeshift encampment at the US Border Patrol facility in McAllen, Texas, May 15, 2019 (Photo: Loren Elliott/Reuters).

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Tomorrow is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, which, I was slightly shocked to realize, I’ve been writing about most years since 2007 — see my reports from 2009, 2010 (and here), 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2018.

When it first took place on June 26, 1998, 21 years ago, it was to mark the 11th anniversary of the date in 1987 when the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the UN Convention Against Torture), which I described last year as “an enormous breakthrough in the global moral struggle against the use of torture,” came into effect. As I also explained, June 26 “also marks the date in 1945 when the UN Charter, the founding document of the United Nations, was signed by 50 of the 51 original member countries (Poland signed it two months later).”

For most of the last 12 years, I have focused on the need for the US to be held accountable for the torture it inflicted, in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011, on prisoners rounded up and tortured in CIA “black sites” around the world, as well as the torture inflicted on prisoners in Guantánamo, in Bagram and numerous other facilities in Afghanistan, and in Iraq, where the use of torture was rife, even though George W. Bush pretended that, unlike in all the other places mentioned above, prisoners were protected by the Geneva Conventions.

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This Summer Solstice, The Party’s Over; Now It’s Time to Save the Planet

The summer solstice 2019 at Stonehenge (Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters).

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Today is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, and at Stonehenge, the astonishing Bronze Age temple on the downs in Wiltshire, around 10,000 people gathered to watch the solstice sun rise through the heart of the temple, on one of the relatively rare years that the dawn sky was clear. It’s a contemporary celebration of the cycle of the seasons, but it also ties us to our mysterious ancestors, 4,000 years ago, who spent untold years transporting and shaping the vast sarsen stones that make up the temple’s epic bulk, so that it aligned with the rising sun on this particularly significant day.

People seem to have been drawn to Stonehenge for the summer solstice for centuries, although many archaeologists have a different take on the monument’s purpose, suggesting that it was not built to celebrate the summer solstice, but to celebrate the other end of this cosmic axis: the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, when, as the archeologist Aubrey Burl has suggested, our distant ancestors — whose lives, to quote Thomas Hobbes, were “nasty, brutish and short” — sought to reassure themselves that life would return from the dead world of winter.

Burl may be right, and much of the archaeological record supports his Hobbesian analogy. Life was indeed hard and short, but the romanticised view of our ancestors celebrating the summer solstice — rather than undertaking the building of stone circles and other extraordinary monuments to seek reassurance, in the depths of winter, that life would return to a dead world — has a powerful resonance for anyone who lived through, or has been influenced by the counter-cultural movements of the western world in the decades following the Second World War, and, in particular, the 1960s and 70s.

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US Supreme Court Supports Lifelong Imprisonment Without Charge or Trial at Guantánamo; Only Justice Breyer Dissents

Guantánamo prisoner and Yemeni citizen Moath al-Alwi, in a photo from Guantánamo included in his classified military file, dated March 2008, and released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, after being leaked by Chelsea Manning. Al-Alwi has been held without charge or trial for over 17 years, but last week had his request for a Supreme Court review of his case turned down.

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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.





 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the 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.

Remember when the US courts used to guarantee the rights of any individual not to be imprisoned indefinitely without charge or trial, in defiance of all accepted domestic and international laws and treaties?

Yes, so do we, but unfortunately all that changed nearly 15 years ago, when the Supreme Court, in a case called Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, dealing with the sole US citizen held at Guantánamo, Yasser Hamdi, born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1980, but living in Saudi Arabia since he was a child, ruled that foreign prisoners held at Guantánamo could be — yes, you guessed it — imprisoned indefinitely without charge or trial.

Hamdi, seized in Afghanistan in December 2001, had been held at Guantánamo until the US authorities realized that he was a US citizen, at which point he was moved to a military brig on the mainland, where he became one of three US citizens or residents held as “enemy combatants” and subjected to torture (the others being US citizen Jose Padilla, and legal resident Ali al-Marri).

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Two Years On From the Grenfell Tower Fire, A Growing Anger at the Way Those in Social Housing Continue to be Treated as Disposable

A photo of Grenfell Tower, lit up with a green light, and bearing the message ‘Forever in our hearts’, on the eve of the 2nd anniversary of the fire that killed 72 people on June 14, 2017, for which no one has yet been held accountable (Photo: Tim Downie on Twitter).

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Two years ago, I switched on my TV and watched in horror as flames engulfed Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey tower block on the Lancaster West Estate in North Kensington, in west London, leading to the loss of 72 lives.

To anyone with even the most cursory knowledge of the safety systems built into concrete tower blocks, it was clear that this was a disaster that should never have happened. Compartmentalisation — involving a requirement that any fire that breaks out in any individual flat should be able to be contained for an hour, allowing the emergency services time to arrive and deal with it — had failed, as had the general ability of the block to prevent the easy spread of fire throughout the building. Instead, Grenfell Tower went up in flames as though it had had petrol poured on it.

It took very little research to establish that what had happened was an entire system failure, caused by long-term neglect and a failure to provide adequate safety measures (in particular, the tower had no sprinkler system fitted), and, more recently, through a refurbishment process that had turned a previously safe tower into a potential inferno. 

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Radio: I Discuss Guantánamo and the Tidemill Campaign on Wandsworth’s Riverside Radio, Also Featuring Songs by The Four Fathers

Andy Worthington at a previous radio appearance, discussing Guantánamo in Northampton, Massachusetts in January 2015.

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On Saturday, I was delighted to be visited by Andy Bungay, from Wandsworth’s Riverside Radio, for an interview broadcast on Andy’s evening show on Sunday, in which we discussed Guantánamo, which I’ve been covering for the last 13 years, and campaigning for its closure, and the housing crisis in London, which I’ve also been involved in challenging for the last few years. I was on Andy’s show back in September, and it was great to have the opportunity to talk again.

The full show is here.

Our interview starts about 1 hours and five minutes into the show, with a discussion of Guantánamo, and, in part, the case of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, whose release in October 2015 I campaigned to secure, initially working with the Save Shaker Aamer campaign, and, over the last year of Shaker’s imprisonment, via We Stand With Shaker, a campaign I set up with fellow activist Joanne MacInnes. This involved creating a giant inflatable figure of Shaker, a PR stunt that might have been widely ignored, but that, instead, led to a hundred celebrities and MPs being willing to have their photos taken with the figure, and to call for his release.

At 1:22, Andy played ’Song for Shaker Aamer’, a solo version of The Four Fathers’ song, used as the campaign song for We Stand With Shaker, which was recorded live in Washington, D.C. in January 2016, where I played it at an event calling for Guantánamo’s closure on the evening before the 14th anniversary of its opening, with lyrics amended to reflect Shaker’s release. The part about Shaker being “back in London” got a big cheer from the crowd!

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Quarterly Fundraiser: Seeking $2500 (£2000) to Support my Guantánamo Work, Activism and Photo-Journalism for the Next Three Months

A photo of me calling for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay in Washington, D.C. on January 11, 2019, the 17th anniversary of its opening, when it had been open for 6,210 days.

Please click on the ‘Donate’ button below to make a donation towards the $2,500 (£2,000) I’m trying to raise to support my work on Guantánamo over the next three months of the Trump administration.





 

Dear friends and supporters,

Every three months I ask you, if you can, to make a donation to support my work as a freelance journalist and activist, working primarily to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, but also working on social justice issues in the UK, particularly involving housing and the environment, as well as chronicling the changing face of London in my ongoing photo-journalism project ‘The State of London.’ 

It’s now 12 years since I began publishing articles about Guantánamo on my website, after I had completed the manuscript for my book The Guantánamo Files, published in 2007. Since then, I have published nearly 2,300 articles about Guantánamo, telling the stories on the men held, and campaigning to secure the closure of the prison, which remains, as it always has been, a legal, moral and ethical abomination. Since 2012, I have also been augmenting my work here with the  very specific focus of the Close Guantánamo campaign and website.

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13 Years Ago, Three Men Died at Guantánamo, Victims of a Brutal Regime of Lawlessness That Is Fundamentally Unchanged Today

Yasser al-Zahrani and Ali al-Salami, two of the three men who died at Guantánamo on the night of June 9, 2006, in circumstances that remain deeply contentious. The US authorities insist that they committed suicide, but other troubling accounts have robustly questioned that conclusion. No photo publicly exists of the third man, Mani- al-Utaybi.

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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




On the night of June 9, 2006, three prisoners at Guantánamo died, their deaths shockingly and insensitively described by the prison’s then-commander, Adm. Harry Harris Jr., as “an act of asymmetrical warfare against us.”

The three men were Yasser al-Zahrani, a Saudi who was just 17 when he was seized in Afghanistan in December 2001, Mani al-Utaybi, another Saudi, and Ali al-Salami, a Yemeni. All three had been prominent hunger strikers.

Al-Zahrani, the son of a prominent Saudi government official, was a survivor of the Qala-i-Janghi massacre, which John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban,” who was recently released after 17 years in a US prison, also survived. Over 400 fighters, supporting the Taliban, had been told that if they surrendered, they would then be set free, but it was a betrayal. They were taken to a fort, Qala-i-Janghi, run by General Rashid Dostum, one of the leaders of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, where some of the men, fearing they would be killed, started an uprising with concealed weapons. Over the course of a week, the prisoners were bombed, set on fire, and, finally, flooded out of a basement, and when they finally emerged, only 86 of the original prisoners had survived.

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The Long Persecution of John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban”

John Walker Lindh, strapped to a gurney in Camp Rhino, near Kandahar, after his capture in December 2001, when he had already survived a massacre at the Qala-i-Janghi fort.

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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.





 

The US establishment is nervous about John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban.” 

A US citizen, Lindh was taken into custody by US forces in Afghanistan in December 2001, along with around 85 other Taliban fighters, survivors of a massacre — the Qala-i-Janghi massacre — that is largely forgotten. He received a 20-year prison sentence in a federal court on the US mainland in May 2002 for providing material support to terrorism, but had his sentence reduced by three years because of good behavior. 

He was released on May 23, but with restrictions imposed by a federal judge. As the Associated Press described it, “Lindh’s internet devices must have monitoring software; his online communications must be conducted in English; he must undergo mental health counseling; he is forbidden to possess or view extremist material; and he cannot hold a passport or leave the US.”

Donald Trump opposed his early release, as did Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. It was reported back in 2015 that, from prison, he had expressed support for Daesh (aka Islamic State or Isis). For the Atlantic, staff writer Graeme Wood, based on prison correspondence with Lindh, claimed that he was “permanently devoted” to violent jihad, and that “public security demands nothing less than close observation [of Lindh] for a very, very long time.” 

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34 Years On from the Battle of the Beanfield, Is Widespread Environmental Dissent Conceivable?

A photo from the Battle of the Beanfield on June 1, 1985, when the government of Margaret Thatcher violently decommissioned a convoy trying to get to Stonehenge to set up what would have been the 12th annual Stonehenge Free Festival.

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It’s 34 long years since the boot of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain crushed one of the most visible demonstrations of counter-cultural dissent in the UK via a brutal demonstration of the violence of the establishment at what became known as the Battle of the Beanfield, when 1,400 police — from six counties and the MoD — shut down a vastly outnumbered convoy of nomadic new age travellers, anarchists, environmental activists and free festival stalwarts as they attempted to get to Stonehenge to establish what would have been the 12th annual Stonehenge Free Festival.

From humble origins in 1974, the festival grew — reflecting massive discontent in Thatcher’s Britain, where unemployment was at an all-time high in the early ‘80s — so that by the time it was suppressed, tens of thousands of people, for the whole of June, set up a makeshift settlement, the size of a small town, in the fields opposite Stonehenge. 

Drug use was rife, as was acid rock music, while the festival’s regulars, who took part in a circuit of free festivals in England and Wales from May to September, tried to get by via the creation of a low-level, low-impact economy that, like their decision to take to the road in old vehicles rather than stagnating on the dole in towns and cities without jobs, fundamentally challenged the state’s insistence that nomadic activities were reserved solely for Gypsies, who, themselves, have a long history of persecution, as settled people generally, it seems, despise nomadic people. 

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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 (The State of London).
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