Archive for January, 2022

Video: Mohamedou Ould Slahi, Elizabeth Miller and I Discuss 9/11 and Guantánamo in a WVIA/Bloomsburg University Show, “Conversations for the Common Good”

A screenshot of “Reaction to 9/11: Dialing Back Civil Rights, Violation of Human Rights,” a discussion about 9/11, Guantánamo and the US’s post-9/11 torture program with former Guantánamo prisoner, torture victim and best-selling author Mohamedou Ould Slahi, and Elizabeth Miller, a Rule of Law Fellow for September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, broadcast by WVIA, a PBS-affiliated channel in Pennsylvania, as part of an ongoing series of shows, “Conversations for the Common Good,” produced in conjunction with Bloomsburg University. The moderator was Larry Vojtko.

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On Wednesday (January 26), I was delighted to take part in “Reaction to 9/11: Dialing Back Civil Rights, Violation of Human Rights,” a discussion about 9/11, Guantánamo and the US’s post-9/11 torture program with former Guantánamo prisoner, torture victim and best-selling author Mohamedou Ould Slahi, and Elizabeth Miller, a Rule of Law Fellow for September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, which describes itself as “an organization founded by family members of those killed on September 11th who have united to turn our grief into action for peace.” Miller lost her father, a firefighter, on 9/11, but like all the other Peaceful Tomorrows members, believes fervently that the U.S. lost its way in its response to the attacks.

The show was broadcast by WVIA, a PBS-affiliated channel in Pennsylvania, and is part of an ongoing series of shows, “Conversations for the Common Good,” produced in conjunction with Bloomsburg University. The moderator was Larry Vojtko, and the show — 72 minutes in total — is available here on WVIA’s website. I’d like to thank William Hudon, a history professor at the university, and a long-time supporter of the Close Guantánamo campaign, for first approaching me last year about this event, and for helping to make it happen.

It’s always good to hear Mohamedou talk, especially when he discusses the power of forgiveness, and I was pleased to finally meet Elizabeth, who articulated well the feeling of betrayal when her government embarked on a program of kidnap and torture after 9/11, betraying the values her father held dear. It was also interesting to hear about the friendship that developed between Mohamedou and Elizabeth, who found common ground in how the US government failed them after 9/11, and, for my part, I was pleased to have been given the opportunity to explain in detail quite why the prison is, and always has been such a legal, moral and ethical abomination, and why it must be closed.

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“Forever Prisoner” at Guantánamo: The Shameful Ongoing Imprisonment of Khaled Qassim

Guantánamo prisoner Khaled Qassim (aka Khalid Qasim), in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011. Please be aware that this photo doesn’t reflect what Khaled looks like now, as it was taken 14 or 15 years ago, when he was around 30 years old. According to his birthdate in the Pentagon’s records, he has just marked his 45th birthday, and in May will have been held at Guantánamo for 20 years without charge or trial.

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On the 20th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay — a disgraceful anniversary that should never have come to pass — President Biden sought to divert attention from his general inaction on Guantánamo in his first year in office by announcing that five men had been approved for release from the prison by Periodic Review Boards, a parole-type process established under President Obama. 

What was less widely reported was that another prisoner, Khaled Qassim (aka Khalid Qasim), held for nearly 20 years, had his ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial approved by a Periodic Review Board, not because of any crime he has committed — the board members recognised his “low level of training and lack of leadership in al Qaida or the Taliban” — but because of his “inability to manage his emotions and actions”, his “high level of significant non-compliance in the last year”, and his “lack of plans for the future if released.”

The decision reveals a fundamental weakness in the PRB system, a purely administrative process, which is not legally binding, and has, essentially, replaced reviews of prisoners’ cases in the courts via habeas corpus petitions — a process that led to dozens of prisoners having their release ordered by the courts between 2008 and 2010, when cynical, politically motivated appeals court judges passed rulings that shut the process down.

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TV and Radio: I Discuss Guantánamo’s 20th Anniversary on Turkish TV, and with Scott Horton and Rebecca Myles

A screenshot from my appearance on TRT World’s program, “20 Years On: What Will It Take to Close Guantánamo Bay?” on January 11, 2022.

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In the third of a series of articles linking to and promoting videos and recordings of events held to mark the 20th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on January 11, 2022 (see the first two here and here), I’m posting links to two radio shows in which I was interviewed, and also to a Turkish TV show in which I was joined by other critics of the prison’s ongoing existence.

On January 11 itself — the 20th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo — I was delighted to be part of a discussion, “20 Years On: What Will It Take to Close Guantánamo Bay?” on “The Newsmakers,” a regular feature on TRT World, the English language channel of the Turkish national broadcaster TRT.

I appeared with Mark Fallon, the author of Unjustifiable Means: The Inside Story of How the CIA, Pentagon, and US Government Conspired to Torture, and Tracy Doig of the UK-based Freedom from Torture (formerly the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture). From 2002 to 2004, Fallon was the director of the Criminal Investigative Task Force (CITF) at Guantánamo, whose organization tried to build criminal cases against prisoners using non-coercive interrogations, while other agencies were engaged in the use of torture and other forms of abuse, which he strongly opposed. He was also one of the authors of a report, “13 Recommendations to Close the Guantánamo Bay Detention Facility,” which was published on the anniversary by the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law (CERL) at theUniversity of Pennsylvania.

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Five More Prisoners Approved for Release from Guantánamo: 18 of the 39 Remaining Men Are Now Waiting to Be Freed

The five “forever prisoners” approved for release from Guantánamo by Periodic Review Boards in November and December 2021. From L to R: Suhayl al-Sharabi, Guled Hassan Duran, Moath al-Alwi, Omar al-Rammah and Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu.

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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 the run-up to the shameful 20th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on January 11, I had the sneaking suspicion that President Biden would seek to divert attention from his general inaction on Guantánamo in his first year in office by announcing that more of the facility’s “forever prisoners” had been approved for release.

In his first year in office, President Biden released just one prisoner, even though he inherited six men approved for release from the previous administrations, but crucially, via the Periodic Review Boards, the review process established by President Obama, he has also now approved an additional 13 men for release — one-third of the remaining 39 prisoners — bringing to 18 the total number of men still held who the US government has conceded that it no longer wants to hold.

This is definitely progress — although it means nothing until the men in question are actually released — but it does show a willingness to move towards the prison’s closure, and also indicates that the administration has taken on board the criticism of numerous former officials, and, in particular, 24 Senators and 75 members of the House of Representatives, who wrote to President Biden last year to point out how unacceptable it is that the government continues to hold men indefinitely without charge or trial.

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Video: The “Disrupt, Confront, and Close Guantánamo” 20th Anniversary Virtual Rally on Jan. 11, 2022

A screenshot of participants in “Disrupt, Confront, and Close Guantánamo,” a “Virtual Rally” for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on January 11, 2022.

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In the second of a series of articles linking to and promoting the videos of events held to mark the 20th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on January 11, 2022, I’m posting below the video of “Disrupt, Confront, and Close Guantánamo,” a powerful “Virtual Rally” organized by a number of groups, including Amnesty International USA, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Witness Against Torture, which, for the second year running, because of Covid concerns, formally replaced the live rally outside the White House that has been taking place for many years, and which I took part in every year from 2011 to 2020 — although I do want to point out that, this year, local activists from the Washington, D.C. area held an actual physical vigil outside the White House, which you can watch here.

Here’s the video of the “Virtual Rally”:

The “Virtual Rally” was compered by Lu Aya of the Peace Poets, and the speakers began with Aliya Hussain, Advocacy Program Manager at the Center for Constitutional Rights, followed by Erika Guevara Rosas, the Americas Director at Amnesty International, and two remarkably eloquent young women, Jessica Murphy and Leila Murphy of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, whose father, Brian Joseph Murphy, was killed on 9/11.

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Video: I Discuss “Guantánamo at Twenty: What is the Future of the Prison Camp?” with Tom Wilner, Karen Greenberg and Peter Bergen at New America

A screenshot of Andy Worthington with Tom Wilner, Karen Greenberg and Peter Bergen at “Guantánamo at Twenty: What is the Future of the Prison Camp?”, an online discussion hosted by New America on Jan. 11, 2022, the 20th anniversary of the opening of the prison.

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The 20th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay was marked by a flurry of mainstream media activity, and, for those us who work on Guantánamo regularly (or even incessantly), it was extraordinarily busy.

I worked almost non-stop on Guantánamo from 8.30 in the morning until 3am the day after, in what was probably the busiest day of my life, starting with a brief but helpful interview with BBC Radio Scotland (about two hours and 45 minutes into the show), and proceeding with a half-hour Turkish TV show with other experts, an online panel discussion at New America in Washington, D.C., and a Virtual Vigil hosted by Amnesty International and other groups. In between these events, I wrote and published an article calling for action from President Biden, posted 50 photos of Close Guantánamo supporters holding up posters calling for its closure, and also uploaded and posted a video of my band The Four Fathers playing ‘Forever Prisoner’, a new song I wrote about Khaled Qassim, one of the men still held indefinitely at Guantánamo without charge or trial.

Over the next week or so, I’ll be posting articles linking to these events, doing what I’ve been doing for most of the last 16 years: trying to keep a focus on the injustices of Guantánamo, and the ever-urgent need for it to be closed, when the mainstream media moves on (as it has done already after briefly remembering the prison on Tuesday).

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As Guantánamo Turns 20, It Is Imperative That President Biden Finds the Political Will to Close It

Advocates for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, including Roger Waters, call on President Biden to close it on the 20th anniversary of its opening, Jan. 11, 2022. Check out all the photos here.

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It is, to be blunt, beyond dispiriting to have to be calling for the closure of the tired and discredited “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay 20 years — 7,306 days — since it first opened.

The prison, as I have long explained, is a legal, moral and ethical abomination, and every day that it remains open ought to be a source of shame to anyone with any respect for the law — or, for that matter, with any common decency.

In countries that respect the rule of law, the only way to be stripped of your liberty is as a criminal suspect or as a prisoner of war protected by the Geneva Conventions. At Guantánamo, the Bush administration threw away the rulebook, holding men without any rights whatsoever as “enemy combatants”, who could be held indefinitely, with no requirement that they ever face charges, and with no legal mechanism in place to ever ensure their release. And despite legal challenges over the last 20 years, that is still fundamentally the situation that prevails today.

Statistics alone can’t capture the misery and lawless brutality of Guantánamo on this grim anniversary. 779 men have been held at Guantánamo by the US military since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. Nine men have died at the prison, all held without charge or trial, and all slandered by military after their deaths, just one man was successfully transferred to the US court system, where he was tried and convicted and is serving a life sentence in a Supermax prison, and 730 men have been released.

Even when they are released from Guantánamo, however, these former prisoners are not free. Many have been accused of being “recidivists” — of returning to the battlefield — in US government reports that are fundamentally unbelievable, and those freed also remain haunted by the “taint” of Guantánamo — still existing fundamentally without rights, prevented from traveling, harassed indiscriminately and sometimes even imprisoned, and generally finding it impossible to find work to support themselves. Of particular concern are many of those who, for a variety of reasons, could not be safely repatriated, and who have ended up in third countries, based on confidential agreements between the US and their host countries that are not publicly disclosed, and that have often failed to provide them with any basic protections or support.

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Photos and Report: The Wet But Spirited Close Guantánamo Protest in London, Jan. 8, 2022, and an Online Gathering of Former Prisoners

Campaigners across the road from 10 Downing Street during the Guantánamo Network’s march and rally against the continued existence of Guantánamo on Jan. 8, 2022 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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It would be hard to imagine more challenging weather conditions than the torrential rain that dogged a protest against the continued existence of Guantánamo in central London yesterday, marking the 20th anniversary of the opening of the prison in two days’ time.

39 campaigners in orange jumpsuits and hoods — representing the 39 men still held — marched in solemn procession from the Houses of Parliament, around Parliament Square and up Whitehall, stopping opposite 10 Downing Street, and ending up at Trafalgar Square. Each campaigner carried a laminated sheet featuring a photo of one of the prisoners, as well as their name and nationality.

The protest was organised by the Guantánamo Network, a coalition of groups that includes members of various Amnesty International groups, myself as the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign, two long-running London-based Guantánamo groups (the Guantánamo Justice Campaign and the London Guantánamo Campaign), and Freedom From Torture. Particular thanks are due to Sara Birch, the Guantánamo Network’s convenor, who is part of the Lewes Amnesty Group — and under whose energetic leadership Lewes has become something of an epicentre for Guantánamo activism.

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Radio: I Discuss 20 Years of Guantánamo and the Proposed Extradition of Julian Assange with Chris Cook on Gorilla Radio

Andy Worthington calling for the closure of prison at Guantánamo Bay outside the White House on Jan. 11, 2020, and the logo for Chris Cook’s ‘Gorilla Radio’ show in Victoria, British Columbia.

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Last week, I was delighted to be interviewed by Chris Cook for his weekly show ‘Gorilla Radio’ in Victoria, in British Columbia. Chris and I have spoken many times before, and it’s always a great pleasure to be on his show. Our interview is available here as an MP3, and the whole show, broadcast later, and also featuring eco-poet Kim Goldberg, is here. The interviews can also be accessed via the Gorilla Radio website here and here.

We began by talking about Abu Zubaydah, and the US torture program, prompted by my recent article, “The Forever Prisoner”: Alex Gibney’s New Documentary About CIA Torture Victim Abu Zubaydah, and I briefly summarized the whole horrible story of his four and a half years in CIA “black sites”, his 15 years (to date) in Guantánamo, and his status as one of Guantánamo’s “forever prisoners” — 14 of the 39 men still held, none of whom have ever been charged with a crime.

Chris also asked me about who has been held at Guantánamo throughout its history, enabling me to explain how, far from being “the worst of the worst”, as alleged, most of the men — and boys — held at Guantánamo over the last 20 years were nothing more than foot soldiers or, in many cases, civilians seized by mistake. I didn’t mention it, but I could have repeated my assertion, which I first made many years ago, that no more than three percent of the 779 men held by the US military at Guantánamo since the prison first opened have had any connection with the leadership structures of al-Qaeda, the Taliban or associated groups.

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Close Guantánamo Events to Mark the 20th Anniversary of the Opening of the Prison

Campaigners (and former prisoner Mansoor Adayfi) call for the closure of Guantánamo on Jan. 5, 2022, when it had been open for 7,300 days.

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.

As we approach a grim anniversary that all decent people hoped would never arrive — the 20th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay — I’m taking part in a number of events to mark the anniversary — mostly online, although a few are carefully organized live events — along with Tom Wilner, with whom I co-founded the Close Guantánamo campaign ten years ago. We are also both available for interviews and media appearances.

Yesterday, the prison had been open for 7,300 days, and as I noted in a message to President Biden, to accompany his photo as part of our ongoing poster campaign, “How did this happen? It’s nearly a year since you took office, and yet you have only released one prisoner, even though 13 others — out of the 39 men still held — have been approved for release by high-level U.S. government review processes. Eight of these men have been approved for release since you took office, and yet none of them have been freed. Approving men for release means nothing unless they are actually freed.”

As I also explained, “In six days’ time, Guantánamo will have been open for 20 years. This is a truly shameful anniversary, and yet, despite making noises about wanting to close the prison, you and your administration have done nothing to demonstrate that you actually mean it. Please show some courage. Release the men approved for release, and announce how you intend to close the prison once and for all.”

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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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