Archive for May, 2024

Guantánamo Scandal: Eleven Men Were Set to Be Freed Last October, Until “Political Optics” Shifted After Hamas’ Attack on Israel

The eleven Yemeni prisoners who were supposed to be resettled in Oman in October 2023. Top row, from L to R: Moath Al-Alwi, Khaled Qassim, Toffiq Al-Bihani, Hani Saleh Rashid Abdullah, Uthman Abd Al-Rahim Muhammad Uthman. Middle row: Sharqawi Al-Hajj, Abdulsalam Al-Hela, Sanad Al-Kazimi, Suhayl Al-Sharabi, Zakaria Al-Baidany. Bottom row: Hassan Bin Attash.

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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.

Thanks to NBC News, and the four anonymous US government officials who spoke to them, for exposing the latest scandal involving the US prison at Guantánamo Bay — the refusal of the Biden administration to release eleven men, for whom long months of negotiation had secured a safe and viable resettlement option, because of the perceived “political optics” of freeing them after the attacks on Israel by Hamas and other militants on October 7.

Within Guantánamo circles, this scandal was well known, but attorneys for the men had been subjected to a Protective Order issued by the government, preventing them from talking about it, and, as a result, they had all dutifully kept quiet, as had others, like myself, who had got to know about it.

Their silence is, in itself, an indictment of how the US government operates at Guantánamo, as I also recognised when I refused to publicize it, because of the fundamentally lawless situation in which these men are held.

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Julian Assange Wins A Major Battle in His Long War Against Punitive US Overreach

Campaigners for Julian Assange outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London on May 20, 2024 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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Today, in the High Court in London, WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange secured a major legal victory in his long struggle against a blatantly unfair US extradition request, which seeks his extradition to the US to face espionage charges relating to the publication by WikiLeaks, in 2010 and 2011, of classified US files leaked by Chelsea Manning, a US private who had worked as an intelligence analyst in Iraq.

Assange’s victory today came when the High Court judges in his case refused to accept US assurances involving two aspects of the extradition request: his right not to be prejudiced against because of his nationality (he is an Australian citizen), and his entitlement to the protections of the US First Amendment, the guarantor of freedom of speech, and the bedrock of protection for journalists and publishers who make available classified information which it is in the public interest to know about, whether it embarrasses governments, or even exposes crimes that they hoped to keep hidden.

Assange’s long struggle against extradition began over five years ago, in April 2019, when he was arrested and taken to HMP Belmarsh, a maximum-security prison in south east London, after the Ecuadorian government withdrew the asylum granted to him in June 2012, which had allowed to him to live, for nearly seven years, in the cramped confines of the Ecuadorian Embassy in Knightsbridge.

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As Israel Shuns a Ceasefire and Continues Its “Forever Genocide” in Rafah and Across Gaza, An End Must Be in Sight

Protestors in Nablus, in the occupied West Bank, on October 26, 2023 (Photo: Zain Jaafar/AFP).

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For over seven months, the Israeli military, largely using weapons provided by the United States and Germany, has been bombing the Gaza Strip with an intensity unmatched in modern history. In March, the NGO Humanity & Inclusion assessed that, on average, 500 bombs a day had been dropped on Gaza, meaning that, as of today, the total number of bombs dropped exceeds 100,000.

Hundreds of these bombs have been US-supplied 2,000lb bombs, which, last week, Frank Gardner, the BBC’s Security Correspondent, citing the UN, described as having “a lethal fragmentation radius of 350 metres”, which “can penetrate concrete more than three metres thick”, and which “leave a crater over 15 metres wide, making it completely unsuitable for use in a place heavily populated by civilians.” As Gardner added, “Even for those people several streets away, the effects can be horrific”, with the UN stating that “the pressure from the explosion can rupture lungs, burst sinus cavities and tear off lies hundreds of metres from the blast site.”

The Gaza Strip, which is home to 2.3 million people — largely the descendants of refugees from the brutal and bloody ethnic cleansing that accompanied the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 — covers just 140 square miles (or 365 square kilometres) of land along the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea — roughly half the size of New York City, and a quarter of the size of London.

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Palestine Vision: An Astonishing Night of Music at the Tabernacle in Notting Hill as an Alternative to the Tainted Eurovision Song Contest

Photos from ‘Palestine Vision.’ Clockwise from top L: Dr. Abdelfattah Abusrour, Bashar Murad, Tamer Nafar and Yaz (Photos: Andy Worthington).

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On Tuesday evening (May 7), I was humbled, honoured and privileged to attend ‘Palestine Vision’, an evening of Palestinian music at the Tabernacle in Notting Hill, London W11, which featured Palestinian musicians from the global diaspora of Palestinian refugees, as well as performances by Palestinian musicians flown in from the Occupied Territories, and from Israel itself. The programme is available here.

Sadly, but understandably, there were no musicians from the Gaza Strip, essentially because those musicians who have not been murdered by Israel since October 7 — as part of targeted bombings aimed specifically at cultural figures, or via the ceaseless and indiscriminate carpet bombing — are trapped in what, for many years, has been described as an “open-air prison”, but which, since Israel’s genocide began seven months ago, has become the world’s largest concentration camp.

The event was organized by the Bethlehem Cultural Festival, established in 2020, and was specifically labeled as an alternative to the Eurovision Song Contest, timed to coincide with Eurovision’s first round of semi-finals, prior to the grand final this Saturday, in Malmö, Sweden, in which, disgracefully, Israel is taking part, despite being engaged in a genocide of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip.

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As Israel’s Genocide in Gaza Grinds On, the Old Order Is Collapsing, But Can a New World Arise?

A student at Columbia University in New York calls for the university to divest from funds connected to Israel’s genocide in the Gaza Strip. (Photo: Alex Kent/Getty Images).

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Who knew, just seven months ago, that it would be Joe Biden, the Democratic President of the United States, who would be responsible for supporting a genocide, and for the most severe betrayal of the principles of international humanitarian law and the most acute increase in the suppression of free speech that any of us in the west have seen in our lifetimes?

The trigger, of course, was Biden’s response to the attacks in Israel by Hamas and other militants on October 7, 2023, when, having broken out of the “open-air prison” of the Gaza Strip, they killed 1,068 Israeli civilians (695 civilians and 373 members of the military and the police), as well as 71 foreign nationals, and abducted around 240 hostages (both Israeli and foreign nationals), taking them back to the Gaza Strip with the intention of using them for hostage exchanges with some of the many thousands of Palestinians, including women and children, who are held in Israeli prisons in shockingly brutal and fundamentally lawless conditions.

These attacks were horrendous, but they didn’t take place in a vacuum. Since 1948, when the State of Israel was created — largely by settlers who arrived from Europe in their hundreds of thousands, after the British, administering Palestine following the fall of the Ottoman Empire, promised it to them as a Jewish homeland — and its founders killed around 15,000 Palestinians, and forced 700,000 others into exile, violence and bloodshed have defined the story of this bitterly contested land.

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Photos and Report: Eight Global Vigils For the Closure of Guantánamo on May 1, 2024

Photos from the the monthly coordinated vigils for the closure of Guantánamo on May 1, 2024. Clockwise from top L: Outside the White House in Washington, D.C., in New York City, in London, and in Cobleskill, NY.

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With Gaza, understandably, dominating the news, as Israel’s genocide continues, and peaceful pro-Palestinian protestors at campuses across the US are being violently assaulted by police on behalf of their universities’ administrators, it’s a tribute to the tenacity of human rights campaigners at five locations across the US — and in London and Brussels — that, on Wednesday, they came out onto the streets to also try to remind people of the ongoing existence of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, and, in particular, the plight of the 16 men (out of 30 still held in total), who have long been approved for release but are still held.

Coordinated monthly vigils for the closure of Guantánamo have been taking place across the US and around the world on the first Wednesday of every month since I began organizing them last February, and on Wednesday, May 1, vigils took place in Washington, D.C., New York, London, Brussels, Cobleskill, NY, Detroit and Los Angeles.

San Francisco didn’t hold a vigil this month, but coordinator Gavrilah Wells took photos at two events at the weekend, and campaigners in Mexico City were also unable to take part, although Natalia Rivera Scott arranged instead for two former prisoners to take photos with posters calling for the prison’s closure.

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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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