Archive for January, 2021

Gen. Lloyd Austin, Biden’s Defense Secretary, Says it’s “Time for Guantánamo to Close its Doors,” as DoD Announces New Military Commission Charges

Gen. Lloyd Austin at his Senate confirmation hearing as defense secretary in President Biden’s administration, Jan. 19, 2021, and a photo of Camp 6 at Guantánamo.

 

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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.

In a flurry of activity on his first day in office, President Biden issued 17 executive orders, undoing some of the worst policy disasters of his predecessor, Donald Trump — including rejoining the Paris climate accord, stopping the US’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization, reversing Trump’s Muslim travel ban, and canceling the much-criticized Keystone XL pipeline.

Yesterday, in what the Guardian described as “a sweeping new set of climate executive orders,” he instructed the US government “to pause and review all oil and gas drilling on federal land, eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and transform the government’s vast fleet of cars and trucks into electric vehicles.”

Missing in all this commendable activity, sadly, is anything relating to the prison at Guantánamo Bay. As Vice President, Joe Biden was with President Obama 12 years ago, on January 22, 2009, when he issued Executive Order 13492, promising to close Guantánamo, which was undone by Trump in Executive Order 13823 — the absurdly-named “Protecting America Through Lawful Detention of Terrorists” — on January 30, 2018.

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Video: Mohamedou Ould Salahi and I Discuss the Closure of Guantánamo with Lewes Amnesty Group on Jan. 11, 2021

A screenshot of former Guantánamo prisoner Mohamedou Ould Salahi speaking to Lewes Amnesty Group on January 11, 2021, the 19th anniversary of the prison’s opening.

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On January 11, the 19th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, I was pleased to take part in a couple of events, to make up for my inability, because of Covid, to visit the US to campaign for the prison’s closure, as I have been doing every year since 2011.

To mark the occasion, I was interviewed by Kevin Gosztola of Shadowproof, for a video that is available here, and earlier I had taken part in an online meeting organized by the Lewes Amnesty Group, a very active group, dating back to the days when campaigners across south east England, and beyond, including campaigners in Lewes, fought to secure the release from Guantánamo of Brighton resident Omar Deghayes (who was released in 2007), and Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who was finally released in 2015 after a huge campaign that involved MPs, the media, celebrities and two particular groups, the long-running Save Shaker Aamer campaign, and We Stand With Shaker, which I set up with campaigner Joanne MacInnes in 2014, and which involved getting MPs and celebrities to stand with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker, to demand his release.

The featured guest of the Lewes Amnesty Group’s meeting was former prisoner Mohamedou Ould Salahi, the author of the best-selling Guantánamo Diary (UK edition here), and a survivor of US torture in Jordan, Afghanistan and Guantánamo, whose story has been adapted by Hollywood for a new feature film, ‘The Mauritanian,’ which will be released next month.

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Video: Guantánamo Attorney Shelby Sullivan-Bennis and I Discuss the Prison’s Ongoing Horrors for Revolution Books Online

A screenshot from “America’s Torture Colony: 19 Years of Guantánamo … It Must Be Closed NOW!”, an online event hosted by Revolution Books, featuring Andy Worthington and Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, and host Raymond Lotta.

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Yesterday, I was delighted to take part in a two-hour online discussion about Guantánamo, with the attorney Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, which was hosted by Revolution Books in New York, and live streamed on YouTube and Facebook.

Before the arrival of Covid, the Revolution Books event was one of the regular highlights of my annual visits to the US (every January from 2011 to 2020), to mark the anniversary of the prison’s opening on January 11, 2002 — and last year, Shelby joined me for the first time, in what was a highly-charged event, as we had just spent the day deep in discussion about Guantánamo, at an exhibition of art by the prisoners, at CUNY Law School in Queens, which Shelby had played a major part in organizing.

This year, of course, all live events on and around the anniversary were called off, and I wasn’t able to visit the US at all, but the Zoom event that replaced the in-store presentation was still a very powerful and emotional event, and while nothing quite compares to being in a room with an audience and interacting with them (and even going out for dinner in Harlem afterwards!), Zoom allows people to join an event from all round the world, and, as yesterday demonstrated, doesn’t necessarily hamper the ability to get a message across.

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Close Guantánamo: Lawyers Decry Broken Military Commission System and Status of “Forever Prisoners” in Washington Post Op-Ed

Campaigners calling for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay outside the US Congress on Monday January 11, 2021, the 19th anniversary of the opening of the prison. (Photo by Alli Jarrar of Amnesty International).

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As the 19th anniversary of the the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay recedes, and the inauguration of Joe Biden hoves into view, it remains crucial that all of us who oppose the continued existence of Guantánamo continue to discuss the 40 men still held there, the inadequacy of the status of all of them (six approved for release but still held, nine charged or tried in a broken trial system, and 25 consigned to oblivion as “forever prisoners”), and to demand its closure.

On the anniversary, along with the various online events and interviews, Newsweek distinguished itself by being the only mainstream US media outlet to focus on the anniversary, publishing a powerful op-ed by former prisoner, torture victim and best-selling author Mohamedou Ould Salahi, which I posted the day after on the Close Guantánamo website.

The only other mainstream media coverage I’ve found came the day after the anniversary in the Washington Post, where two attorneys with the Military Commissions Defense Organization, civilian defense counsel Brian Bouffard, and Aaron Shepard, a lieutenant commander in the US Navy JAG Corps, wrote what really ought to be an epitaph for Guantánamo’s broken military commission trial system, and for the rotten policy of indefinite detention without charge or trial that is the main hallmark of Guantánamo’s unforgivable exceptionalism, as the prison begins its 20th year of operations. The op-ed is cross-posted below.

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Video: I Talk to Kevin Gosztola About Guantánamo on the 19th Anniversary of Its Opening — and Julian Assange

A screenshot of Andy Worthington’s interview with Kevin Gosztola of Shadowproof on Jan. 11, 2021, the 19th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo.

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Yesterday, on the 19th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, I was delighted when Kevin Gosztola of Shadowproof got in touch to request an interview to be livestreamed on his YouTube channel.

We spoke for just over half an hour, covering Guantánamo for the first 24 minutes, in which I had the opportunity to explain in detail where we are, 19 long and shameful years since the prison opened, and four depressing years since Donald Trump promised there would be no releases from Guantánamo, and, with one exception, was true to his word.

For the 40 men still held at Guantánamo, it is impossible for their situation to be worse under Joe Biden than it was under Trump, and Kevin and I discussed what progress there might be under Biden after he takes office in a week’s time — releasing the six men already approved for release, and, with his control of both the Senate and the House, being able to reverse Republican prohibitions on bringing anyone to the US mainland for any reason — whether for urgent medical treatment that is unavailable at Guantánamo, or to face trials, in the federal court system, as opposed to the broken military commissions at Guantánamo.

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Close Guantánamo: Online Events Marking the 19th Anniversary of the Opening of the Prison on January 11, 2021

Campaigners from Witness Against Torture and other organizations call for the closure of Guantánamo outside the White House on January 11, 2012, the 10th anniversary of the prison’s opening.

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. 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.

For the last ten years, I have traveled to the US from London (since 2012 as the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign, which I co-founded that year with the US attorney Tom Wilner) to take part in events marking the anniversary, on January 11, of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, with a particular focus on a vigil outside the White House, with representatives of numerous NGOs including Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and Witness Against Torture.

This year, sadly, because of Covid, the vigil is only happening online, and my visit has been called off, although I am currently finalizing details of online replacements for events that I usually undertake in person — a panel discussion with our other co-founder Tom Wilner at New America in Washington, D.C., and another at Revolution Books in New York with Guantánamo lawyer Shelby Sullivan-Bennis — as well as some other online discussions. See my post here about the Revolution Books event, which is on Sunday January 17, and begins at 4pm Eastern time. It will be livestreamed on YouTube and Facebook. I hope to have details about the New America event soon.

For this year’s anniversary, I urge you to join Close Guantánamo’s photo campaign, taking a photo with our poster marking how long Guantánamo has been open on January 11 — 6,941 days — and sending it to us at info@closeguantanamo.org. You can also take a photo with our follow-up poster for January 20, the day of Joe Biden’s inauguration, when the prison will have been open for 6,950 days. We’ll be posting the photos on our website, and sharing them on social media.

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As UK Judge Denies Julian Assange Bail, It’s Time for Joe Biden to Drop the US Extradition Request

A supporter of Julian Assange outside the Old Bailey in London on October 1, 2020, the last day of his extradition hearing. The balloons were part of an initiative celebrating the 14th anniversary of the founding of WikiLeaks, on October 4 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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Today, at Westminster Magistrates Court, just two days after ruling that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange cannot be extradited to the US, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser refused to grant him bail, consigning him to ongoing imprisonment in the maximum-security Belmarsh prison in south east London.

On Monday, at the Central Criminal Court (the Old Bailey), Judge Baraitser refused to allow the extradition to proceed, ruling that his life would be at risk in a US supermax prison. Judge Baraitser accepted expert testimony and evidence, given during his extradition hearings in September and October, that Assange has Asperger’s Syndrome and has expressed suicidal ideations, and that the US authorities would be unable to prevent him from committing suicide in a supermax prison, a decision with precedents in the cases of Gary McKinnon and Lauri Love, whose extradition was also prevented by British judges.

Assange must now await a possible appeal against Monday’s ruling, with Judge Baraitser recognizing the US government’s right to do so when she stated today that, “As a matter of fairness, the US must be allowed to challenge my decision.”

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Judge Refuses to Allow WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange’s Extradition to the US, Citing Suicide Risk

Longtime Julian Assange supporter Elsa Collins near the Old Bailey today, January 4, 2021, after District Judge Vanessa Baraitser unexpectedly prevented WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s extradition to the US (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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In a totally unexpected ruling in the Old Bailey this morning, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser refused to allow WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s extradition to the US to proceed, on the basis that, as court-watcher Kevin Gosztola described it in a tweet, she was “satisfied that procedures described by [the] US would not prevent Assange from finding a way to commit suicide in [a] US supermax prison.”

Gosztola added, powerfully, “The United States government’s mass incarceration system just lost them their case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.”

In an unjust world in which good news seems to be in ever dwindling supply, this is extraordinarily good news. The US has 14 days to appeal, but it is uncertain if they will do so, as the mental health and suicide risk argument is essentially unassailable, and has been used effectively before — in the cases of Gary McKinnon and Lauri Love, who both have Asperger’s Syndrome. Julian’s Asperger’s has, to my mind, rarely been adequately recognized before, until it was diagnosed by an expert witness in his extradition hearing in September, which now seems to have played a key role in preventing his extradition.

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Radio: I Discuss London’s Housing Crisis and Covid’s Impact on Business Rents with Andy Bungay, Plus Three Four Fathers Songs

A deserted Piccadilly Circus on Christmas Day, 2020, an unpublished photo from Andy Worthington’s photo-journalism project ‘The State of London.’

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Recently I spoke to Andy Bungay of Riverside Radio, a community radio station in Wandsworth, for his show ‘The Chiminea’, which was broadcast on Boxing Day, and is available here on Mixcloud.

Andy and I have been speaking for several years, and it’s always great to talk to him.  Our 50-minute segment of the two and a half hour show began just under 21 minutes in, when Andy played ‘Fighting Injustice’, the first of three songs by my band The Four Fathers, which has long been a live favourite, and whose chorus is something of a mantra of mine — “If you ain’t fighting injustice / You’re living on the dark side.”

We then began our discussion by taking about my photo-journalism project ‘The State of London’, which I began in 2012, and which involves me cycling and taking photos on a daily basis throughout London’s 120 postcodes, and, since 2017, posting a photo a day, with an accompanying story, on Facebook.

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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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