Archive for August, 2020

Check Out The Four Fathers’ Video Trilogy from Our Pre-Covid Charlie Hart Sessions

A screenshot from The Four Fathers’ YouTube channel.

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Since the coronavirus hit, my band The Four Fathers have, like most musicians, been unable to do much at all. Initially isolated from each other — and with our bassist Paul having moved to San Francisco — we didn’t get together until June, when we played a few songs for my friend Neil Goodwin’s Virtual Stonehenge Free Festival, available on YouTube here.

Paul then returned from San Francisco, which was good news for us, and we’ve rehearsed a few times since, but, unsurprisingly, we haven’t played any gigs, although we did manage to release three new studio recordings, which we recorded in December with the great Charlie Hart, who, in a 50-year career, has played in Kilburn and the High Roads with Ian Dury, and in Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance, has produced music for the legendary Congolese singer Samba Mapangala, and currently plays in a revived Slim Chance and in his own band The Equators, an extraordinary world-jazz-blues group of extremely talented musicians.

The recordings were of three new songs that I wrote in 2018/19, all available on Bandcamp, where they can be purchased as downloads: The Wheel of Life, a meditation on mortality and living in the moment, This Time We Win, an eco-anthem inspired by Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion, on which Charlie plays Wurlitzer piano, and Affordable, a punky blast of rock and roll about lying politicians and the housing crisis.

We also followed up the release of the new recordings with experimental videos using found footage that were made by our drummer Bren Horstead.

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Judge Upholds Ruling Ordering Independent Medical Review for Tortured Guantánamo Prisoner Mohammed Al-Qahtani

A composite image of Guantánamo prisoner and torture victim Mohammed al-Qahtani and District Judge Ellen Huvelle.

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Back in March, as I explained in an article at the time, District Judge Rosemary Collyer made history when she ordered the US government to allow independent medical and psychiatric experts from outside the US to assess a prisoner at Guantánamo.

The prisoner in question is Saudi national Mohammed al-Qahtani, who had pre-existing serious mental health issues that the US authorities failed to disclose when, at Guantánamo, they came to regard him as the intended 20th hijacker for the 9/11 attacks, and subjected him to a torture program involving months of sleep deprivation and sexual humiliation.

Judge Collyer’s ruling involved her, as Carol Rosenberg explained for the New York Times, stating that “she was granting a request” by al-Qahtani’s lawyers “to compel the United States to apply an Army regulation designed to protect prisoners of war and to create ‘a mixed medical commission’ made up of a medical officer from the US Army and two doctors from a neutral country chosen by the International Committee of the Red Cross and approved by the United States and Saudi Arabia.”

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Uighurs Freed from Guantánamo Are Still Deprived of Fundamental Rights As They Seek to Be Reunited With Wives and Children in Canada

Former Guantánamo prisoner Ayub Mohammed with his youngest child in Albania. He is seeking to be reunited with his wife and children in Canada, where they live.

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.





 

Please sign and share a Change.org petition to the Canadian government calling for Ayub Mohammed, Salahidin Abdulahad and Khalil Mamut to be granted permanent residence status so that they can be reunited with their families.

In the long and shameful history of the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, where most of the 779 men held by the US military during the last eighteen and a half years were never charged or put on trial (as remains the case for the majority of the 40 men still held), the prevailing lawlessness and abuse do not necessarily end with a prisoner’s release.

Of the 729 men — and boys — released from Guantánamo since it opened (532 under George W. Bush, 196 under Barack Obama, and just one under Donald Trump), most have been sent back to their home countries, where, fundamentally, they have no protection from their home governments if, for example, their countries’ leaders decide that they should be imprisoned, or have their lives disrupted in any way, either sporadically, or even on a permanent basis.

For around 130 of these former prisoners, however, new homes had to be found for them in third countries — in most cases, because the US government accepted that it was unsafe for them to be returned to their home countries. In the cases of the majority of the Yemenis freed, for example, the US government regarded it as unsafe to repatriate them because of the security situation in Yemen, while in other cases — Syria, for example — the US accepted that the government could not be trusted to treat them humanely. This was also the case for 22 Uighurs — Turkic-speaking Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province — whose lives were in danger from the Chinese government.

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COVID-19: Institutional Inertia, the Need for Vision, and the Collapse of the US and the UK

Donald Trump and Boris Johnson both wearing masks as protection against the coronavirus COVID-19. Trump wore a mask in public for thew first time just a month ago, having previously said that he would not do so. The day before, Johnson, who is rarely seen at all, wore a mask for the first time in public while visiting businesses in his Uxbridge constituency.

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Six months since the arrival of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, prompted an unprecedented lockdown on social and economic activity, a veneer of normality has been resumed, although it remains an uneasy time. Pubs and restaurants are open, cars once more fill the streets, turning the taste of the air to one of petrol after months without it, and zombie shoppers once more return to high streets and shopping malls to buy clothing produced in factories — mostly in the “developing world” — that involves economic exploitation of the unseen, and nothing short of environmental destruction, as these factories kill off rivers with their noxious chemicals.

As I see on an almost daily basis, however, on my bike rides into the West End and the City of London to take photos for my ongoing photo-journalism project ‘The State of London’, the veneer is very thin. Although people have been returning to the West End since June 15, when “non-essential” shops were allowed to to reopen, the numbers are down, and massively so.

As I explained in my most recent COVID-related article, COVID-19: Workers and Employers Show No Great Enthusiasm for Returning to the Office to Revive “Business As Usual”, 5.1m people visited the West End in the first full month of the post-lockdown re-opening of retail outlets, but that was 73% down year-on-year, and will not enable businesses to survive unless landlords also write off 73% of their rents. If they do, the virus will have succeeded in denting the wealth of the rich; if they don’t, the West End will soon be a wasteland of shuttered shops, because however much some people are enjoying al fresco street dining in pedestrianised streets in Soho, there is an achingly huge financial hole where the tourists and office workers used to be.

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In Historic Ruling, Case of Four Survivors of CIA Rendition and “Black Site” Torture To Be Heard By Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Four of the men subjected to rendition and torture in the “war on terror’ that the United States declared after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. From L to R: British residents Binyam Mohamed and Bisher al-Rawi, Abou Elkassim Britel, an Italian citizen, and Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah, a Yemeni.

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.

When it comes to the crimes committed by the US government in the brutal “war on terror” declared after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the wheels of justice move so slowly that their motion is almost imperceptible.

A case in point involves four survivors of the CIA’s rendition and torture program — British residents Binyam Mohamed and Bisher al-Rawi, Abou Elkassim Britel, an Italian citizen, and Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah, a Yemeni. Also see my extensive archive about Binyam Mohamed’s case, which I covered in great detail in 2008 and 2009.

Last month, on July 8, in what the ACLU accurately described as a “historic decision,” the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights — an international human rights tribunal based in Washington, D.C., which reviews cases throughout the Americas, and whose judgments are meant to be binding on the states involved — determined that the four men, “survivors of the US secret detention and torture program,” have “the right to present their case before the regional tribunal.”

And those wheels of justice? Well, here goes. The case was only submitted to the IACHR — in November 2011 — after a long quest for justice in the US had been exhausted. The ACLU had first filed a lawsuit in May 2007 on behalf of three of the men — against Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc., a subsidiary of Boeing whose role as “The CIA’s Travel Agent” was first exposed, through statements made by a former Jeppesen employee, in an article by Jane Mayer for the New Yorker in October 2006.

As I explained in an article ten years ago:

In statements that were later submitted to the court, Sean Belcher, a former employee, said that the director of Jeppesen International Trip Planning Services, Bob Overby, had told him, “We do all the extraordinary rendition flights,” which he also referred to as “the torture flights” or “spook flights.” Belcher stated that “there were some employees who were not comfortable with that aspect of Jeppesen’s business” because they knew “some of these flights end up” with the passengers being tortured, but added that Overby had explained, “that’s just the way it is, we’re doing them” because “the rendition flights paid very well.”

In its press release last month, the ACLU explained how, “During rendition flights, victims were often stripped naked, sexually assaulted, diapered, chained, and strapped down to the floor of an airplane as part of a brutal procedure known as ‘capture shock’ treatment.”

As the ACLU explained in its page relating to the case, in February 2008 the District Court “dismisse[d] the ACLU’s case against Jeppesen after the government intervened, inappropriately invoking the ‘states secrets privilege’ to avoid legal scrutiny of an unlawful program.” The ACLU appealed, and in February 2009 a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard the case. Barack Obama was now president, but the Department of Justice “once again assert[ed] that the entire subject matter of the case [was] a state secret.”

In April 2009, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals — led by Judge Michael Daly Hawkins, and also including Judges Mary M. Schroeder and William C. Canby, Jr. — reversed the District Court’s dismissal of the case, “ruling that the government cannot invoke the state secrets privilege to dismiss the entire suit, rather, the privilege can only be invoked with respect to specific evidence,” as the ACLU described it.

I wrote about it at the time, 100 days into Obama’s presidency, citing pertinent passages from the ruling, including the following:

At base, the government argues … that state secrets form the subject matter of a lawsuit, and therefore require dismissal, any time a complaint contains allegations, the truth or falsity of which has been classified as secret by a government official. The district court agreed, dismissing the case exclusively because it “involves allegations” about [secret] conduct by the CIA. This sweeping characterization of the “very subject matter” bar has no logical limit — it would apply equally to suits by US citizens, not just foreign nationals; and to secret conduct committed on US soil, not just abroad. According to the government’s theory, the Judiciary should effectively cordon off all secret government actions from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the CIA and its partners from the demands and limits of the law.

Following the April 2009 ruling, the case was remanded back to the District Court, but before that could happen the government asked the full appeals court — an 11-judge panel — to hear the case. That happened in December 2009, and in September 2010 the court reversed the April 2009 decision, as I explained in my article at the time, By One Vote, US Court OKs Torture and “Extraordinary Rendition”.

As I explained in my article, “when asked to rule on whether these five men should have their day in court, or whether the government should be allowed to dismiss their lawsuit by claiming that the exposure of any information relating to ‘extraordinary rendition’ and torture threatened the national security of the United States, American justice contemplated looking at itself squarely in the mirror, telling truth to power, and allowing these men the opportunity to address what had happened to them in a court of law, but, at the last minute, flinched and turned away. By six votes to five, the Court decided that, in the interests of national security, the men’s day in court would be denied.”

In December 2010, the ACLU “file[d] a cert petition, asking the US Supreme Court to review the lower court’s decision dismissing the lawsuit,” but in May 2011 the Supreme Court turned down the request, exhausting the legal options in the US, and leading the ACLU — with the NYU Global Justice Clinic — to approach the IACHR instead.

Meanwhile, in the US, the truth of the men’s claims was further highlighted with the publication, in December 2014, of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the CIA torture program, which took five years to complete, and which, damningly for the CIA and the Bush administration, condemned the program for being brutal and counter-productive. 119 victims of rendition and torture were named in the report, including Binyam Mohamed, Bisher al-Rawi and Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah, although, like an untold number of other prisoners who were not held in specific CIA “black sites,” but in facilities in, for example, Morocco, Jordan, Syria or Egypt, Abou Elkassim Britel (held in Morocco) was not. Mohamed and al-Rawi were also the only two of the four to also be held at Guantánamo.

Following the recent IACHR ruling, the ACLU explained that, “In ordering the case to move forward, the Inter-American Commission found that ‘insurmountable obstacles within the US legal system’ prevent victims of US counterterrorism operations from obtaining remedies before US courts.”

Steven Watt, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Human Rights Program, said, “Unlike US courts, the Commission found that victims of US extraordinary rendition and torture can have their claims heard. Our clients’ decades-long pursuit of justice has finally paid off.”

The ACLU noted that the IACHR “found that the US is responsible under the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man to respect the rights of everyone under US control, even when such persons are located outside the country.” Following its decision to proceed, the IACHR “will now consider the merits of the survivors’ legal claims, including any US violations of the rights enshrined in the American Declaration.”

Professor Margaret Satterthwaite, Director of the NYU Global Justice Clinic, and counsel for Mr. Bashmilah, said, “At a time when the Trump administration is doing everything in its power to thwart accountability for US torture, this decision demonstrates that the US is not above the law. President Trump has relentlessly attacked international justice institutions, most recently with an executive order authorizing sanctions against the International Criminal Court for even investigating US war crimes. The Inter-American Commission’s decision to accept this case shows that the quest for accountability will not be quashed.”

* * * * *

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 music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison 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, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.55), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from eight years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

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, The Complete Guantánamo Files, 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.

COVID-19: Workers and Employers Show No Great Enthusiasm for Returning to the Office to Revive “Business As Usual”

An almost entirely deserted Liverpool Street station on April 2, 2020 – a previously unpublished photo from Andy Worthington’s photo-journalism project ‘The State of London.’

Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.





 

In Sunday’s Observer, the paper’s chief political commentator Andrew Rawnsley related how, a few weeks ago, a group of civil servants at the Cabinet Office were “told to find a way of re-opening nightclubs in a coronavirus-safe way.” Although they were, in Rawnsley’s words, a “bright group”, they couldn’t overcome the fundamental  — one might say fatal — flaw at the heart of the exercise. “The socially distanced nightclub is a contradiction in terms”, as Rawnsley put it, adding, “Nightclubs, by their very nature, are all about social intimacy.”

Rawnsley proceeded to explain that he was telling this story “to illustrate just how very desperate the government has been to release Britain from every aspect of lockdown and return us to something that resembles the pre-coronavirus world as closely as possible.” Our leaders, as he put it, “dreamed of returning to that prelapsarian age in which you could eat out with your family, go drinking with your mates, commute to work, celebrate a religious festival or jet off to a holiday somewhere reliably sunny without having to worry about catching or spreading a deadly disease. While never quite saying it explicitly, their ambition has essentially been to get everything open again.”

This indeed seems to be the case, and it is typical of a government made up largely of inadequate ministers who are only in place because of their enthusiasm for the insanity of Brexit, and who are led by the laziest example of a Prime Minister in living memory, that the nuances of the challenges facing us — and the unexpected opportunities for a less chaotic and more environmentally sustainable world — are being ignored.

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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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