Six Years without Charge or Trial: An Evening of Poetry, Film and Tributes to Talha Ahsan in London, July 19

URGENT: Please note that, due to a double booking at  Zakat House, this event has been moved, at the last minute, to: The Arts Catalyst, 50-54 Clerkenwell Road, London EC1M 5PS. It will start at 8pm.

On Thursday, I’ll be taking part in an event in London to raise awareness of the plight of Talha Ahsan, a British citizen, and a poet who suffers from Asberger’s Syndrome. Talha, who also gained a first class honours degree in Arabic from SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies, part of the University of London), planned to become a librarian, but has been imprisoned for six years without charge or trial in the UK, while pursuing legal challenges to prevent his proposed extradition to the US. The event is taking place on the sixth anniversary of his arrest at his home, on July 19, 2006.

This will be my second appearance at an event in support of Talha. Two weeks ago, I took part in a moving event in Bethnal Green, in East London, The event in Bethnal Green, at the premises of the arts organisation no.w.here, involved a screening of the new documentary film, “Extradition,” directed by Turab Shah, which tells the stories of Talha Ahsan and also of Babar Ahmad, imprisoned for eight years without charge or trial, who also faces extradition to the US. The film features interviews with the human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce, the playwright Avaes Mohammad, the fathers of Babar and Talha, and Talha’s brother Hamja, all framed by Talha’s prison poetry, and at the event on July 4, there was a palpable feeling that, within days, Talha and Babar might find their last appeal to the European Court of Human Rights turned down, leading to their imminent extradition to the US — and solitary confinement in a Supermax prison.

Fortunately, the date that a decision on the appeal was to be made — July 10 — has now been extended to September, allowing campaigners some more time to try to persuade the British government to intervene. Talha and Babar Ahmad are accused of hosting a website from 1997 to 2004 promoting jihad in countries where Muslims faced oppression, but it is difficult to see what justification there is for extraditing them to the US, where a biased judicial system will probably sentence them to decades in solitary confinement, for two particular reasons. Read the rest of this entry »

Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad: “Extradition” Film Screenings in London, and an Appeal to the European Court of Human Rights

Postscript July 6: I have just been informed that Talha and Babar’s lawyers have asked people NOT to send letters to the European Court of Human Rights, as they are submitting their own formal appeal. New campaigning tools will be announced soon.

As part of the campaign to prevent the extradition to the US of Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad — who, along with others, including Richard O’Dwyer and Gary McKinnon — face extradition to the US under the terms of the much-criticised US-UK Extradition Treaty, Talha’s brother Hamja has been working flat-out to promote a new documentary film, “Extradition,” which tells the stories of his brother and of Babar Ahmad, with screenings up and down the country. Directed by Turab Shah, the film features interviews with the human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce, the playwright Avaes Mohammad, the fathers of Babar and Talha, and Talha’s brother Hamja, all framed by Talha’s prison poetry.

On Wednesday July 4, and later in the month, I will be taking part in Q&A sessions following screenings in London, and I also want to alert readers in the London area to other screenings this week, on Friday July 6 and Saturday July 7.

As I explained in an article two weeks ago, promoting a meeting in the House of Commons to discuss the US-UK Extradition Treaty, it has been “a source of consternation since its establishment in 2003, as it allows British citizens to be extradited to the US for the flimsiest of reasons, where they will face a legal system that is, in many ways, out of control, in which cases that involve activities that can be described as providing material support for terrorism, for example, attract horrendously long sentences.” Read the rest of this entry »

Stop the Extradition to the US of Talha Ahsan, Babar Ahmad, Gary McKinnon and Richard O’Dwyer

Tomorrow, Wednesday, June 20, 2012, there is a meeting in the House of Commons to discuss the US-UK Extradition Treaty, a source of consternation since its establishment in 2003, as it allows British citizens to be extradited to the US for the flimsiest of reasons, where they will face a legal system that is, in many ways, out of control, in which cases that involve activities that can be described as providing material support for terrorism, for example, attract horrendously long sentences.

The meeting, in Committee Room 10, begins at 6 pm, and lasts until 8 pm, and features the following speakers:

Caroline Lucas MP
John Hemming MP
Sadiq Khan MP (Shadow Justice Secretary)
Gareth Peirce
Victoria Brittain
David Bermingham (Natwest Three)
Sir Iqbal Sacranie
Ashfaq Ahmad

Those facing extradition, whose cases will be discussed, are Talha Ahsan, Babar Ahmad, Gary McKinnon and Richard O’Dwyer. I discussed their cases back in April, after Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad had their appeal to the European Court of Human Rights turned down, and I recommend that article for anyone who wants to know more. Briefly, however, none of the men have ever visited the US, and summaries of their cases are as follows: Talha Ahsan is a poet and writer with Asperger’s syndrome who has been detained for six years without charge or trial; Babar Ahmad has been detained without charge or trial for eight years, longer than any other British citizen in modern British history (and both men are accused of alleged crimes involving web-based militant activity); Gary McKinnon, who also has Asperger’s Syndrome, is accused of hacking into US agency websites ten years ago and has been fighting extradition ever since; and Richard O’Dwyer is accused of breaching US copyright laws, despite the fact that what he is accused of does not constitute a crime in the UK. Read the rest of this entry »

Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan: Why It’s Time to Scrap the US-UK Extradition Treaty

Critics of the European Court of Human Rights, which, in February, refused to allow the UK to deport the Muslim cleric Abu Qatada to Jordan, were delighted when, on April 10, the court turned down an appeal by five other men who were seeking to prevent their extradition to the US, on the grounds that their human rights would be violated if they were sent to the US to stand trial, However, as those critics are generally driven by anti-Islamic “war on terror” hysteria and disdain for the European Court and for the European Convention on Human Rights — and especially the legislation designed to prevent torture and to ensure fair trials — their delight is not something that should necessarily be emulated or encouraged.

The five men are Abu Hamza, Babar Ahmad, Syed Talha Ahsan, Adel Abdel Bary and Khaled al-Fawwaz. As the Guardian described it, the European judges “decided they needed more information about the mental health” of a sixth man, Haroon Aswat, an aide to Abu Hamza who has suffered such a precipitous decline in is mental health that he has been been held in Broadmoor psychiatric hospital, before reaching a decision on him.

Of the five, Abu Hamza (or Abu Hamza al-Masri), whose real name is Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, is the best known, or perhaps the most notorious — a half-blind, hook-handed firebrand preacher, born in Egypt but a British citizen for nearly 30 years, who was tried, convicted and given a seven-year sentence in 2006 for charges of soliciting to murder, and other charges related to “stirring up racial hatred.” Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Andy Worthington Discusses the US-UK Special Relationship on Russia Today, Involving War, Torture, Extradition and Shaker Aamer

Yesterday, I was pleased to be invited to discuss the “special relationship” between the US and the UK on Russia Today, which was timely, of course, as David Cameron was visiting Barack Obama, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to discuss how the “special relationship,” which transcends party politics, seems, on recent evidence, to be based on warmongering, complicity in torture, and a shared belief in the shredding of long-established laws.

In response to questions from the host, Alla Key, I was also given the opportunity to wonder whether the two leaders would be managing to find time to discuss people whose lives are being ruined by the dreadful US-UK extradition agreement, whereby British citizens are being imprisoned for years and/or facing draconian prison sentences and savage conditions of confinement without the need for evidence to be presented, and with no regard for whether they would be better off tried in the UK instead, or whether extradition is correct in cases that do not even involve crimes in the UK.

Alla mentioned the most recent case — Richard O’Dwyer, a young man facing extradition regarding TVShack, a website he owned that, according to US prosecutors, hosted links to pirated films and television programmes. — but I also found the opportunity to mention Babar Ahmad, who has been imprisoned for eight years fighting his extradition, and, on a separate topic, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, cleared since 2007, whose continued detention is unjustifiable, but who is unlikely to have been a topic of discussion between the two leaders. Read the rest of this entry »

Return Shaker Aamer to the UK from Guantánamo: Major Publicity Campaign Launched to Secure 100,000 Signatures on UK E-Petition

Please sign the e-petition (British citizens and residents only).

This is the image that, from next week, will be on postcards distributed the length and breadth of the UK, and handed out in universities and colleges, in mosques and churches, and at protests and other gatherings, to secure 100,000 signatures on an e-petition launched by the family and lawyers of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo. Please click on the image for the full-size version.

Entitled, “Return Shaker Aamer to the UK,” the e-petition (which can be signed by children, as well as adults) urges the government — and, specifically, the Foreign Office and the foreign secretary William Hague — to “undertake urgent new initiatives to achieve the immediate transfer of Shaker Aamer to the UK from continuing indefinite detention in Guantánamo Bay.”

The e-petition needs 100,000 signatures by May 14 to secure a response from the British government, and in order to achieve this, campaigners are drawing up plans to repeat the successful campaign to secure a Parliamentary debate about Babar Ahmad, the British citizen who has been held in the UK without charge or trial for eight years pending extradition to the US. Nearly 150,000 signatures were secured for Babar Ahmad between August and November last year, triggering a debate in Parliament that facilitated high-level discussions about the fundamental problems regarding the extradition agreements between the US and the UK, and throughout the EU. Read the rest of this entry »

Save the NHS: The Battle Is Not Yet Won, But the Tories Are Under Severe Pressure

So much for promises. David Cameron and his government are notorious, to those who are awake and paying attention, for implementing policies that they never mentioned on the election trail two years ago, and for not having a mandate for their swingeing cuts to the British state that are disproportionately affecting students, the working poor, the unemployed and the disabled.

David Cameron has also been developing a reputation for broken promises. The most prominent, of course, was his promise that there would be “no more top-down reorganisation of the NHS,” followed by a complete volte-face, as he allowed Andrew Lansley to propose the most sweeping top-down reorganisation of the NHS in its entire 64-year history.

The breaking of this particular promise may come back to haunt Cameron, as the NHS is considerably more popular with the British public than any government, and the party that tries to destroy it, having promised not to do so, may well have signed its own death warrant by persisting with its privatisation plans in the face of widespread dissent. As the Guardian noted on February 20, in an analysis of the latest Guardian/ICM poll: Read the rest of this entry »

The Guantánamo Files: An Archive of Articles — Part Eleven, October to December 2011

The Guantanamo Files

Please support my work!

Since March 2006, I have been researching and writing about Guantánamo and the 779 men (and boys) held there, first through my book The Guantánamo Files, and, since May 2007, as a full-time independent investigative journalist. For three years, I focused on the crimes of the Bush administration and, since January 2009, I have analyzed the failures of the Obama administration to thoroughly repudiate those crimes and to hold anyone accountable for them, and, increasingly, on President Obama’s failure to charge or release prisoners, and to show any sign that Guantánamo will eventually be closed.

As recent events marking the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo have shown, this remains an intolerable situation, as Guantánamo is as much of an aberration, and a stain on America’s belief in itself as a nation ruled by laws, as it was when it was opened by George W. Bush on January 11, 2002. Closing the prison remains as important now as it did when I began this work nearly six years ago.

Throughout my work, my intention has been to puncture the Bush administration’s propaganda about Guantánamo holding “the worst of the worst” by telling the prisoners’ stories and bringing them to life as human beings, rather than allowing them to remain as dehumanized scapegoats or bogeymen.

This has involved demonstrating that the majority of the prisoners were either innocent men, seized by the US military’s allies at a time when bounty payments were widespread, or recruits for the Taliban, who had been encouraged by supporters in their homelands to help the Taliban in a long-running inter-Muslim civil war (with the Northern Alliance), which began long before the 9/11 attacks and, for the most part, had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or international terrorism. Read the rest of this entry »

Petition for Babar Ahmad to be Tried in the UK and Not Extradited to the US Reaches Target of 100,000 Signatures

For Babar Ahmad, the British citizen held for seven years fighting his planned extradition to the US to face terrorism charges that were found to be hollow when investigated in the UK, the realisation that an e-petition to the British government, asking for him to be tried in the UK and not extradited to the US, has reached its target of 100,000 signatures, must be welcome news indeed.

Last night, the target was reached, which now means that Babar Ahmad’s case will be debated In Parliament, and is one of only five petitions to reach the 100,000 target required to ensure a Parliamentary debate. In seeking justice for Mr. Ahmad, the e-petition states, “In June 2011, the Houses of Parliament Joint Committee on Human Rights urged the UK government to change the law so that Babar Ahmad’s perpetual threat of extradition is ended without further delay. Since all of the allegations against Babar Ahmad are said to have taken place in the UK, we call upon the British Government to put him on trial in the UK and support British Justice for British Citizens.”

After exhausting all legal avenues in the UK, Babar Ahmad submitted an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, which, as I explained in an article last week, Sign the Petition to the British Government: Prevent Babar Ahmad’s Extradition to the US, Put Him on Trial in the UK, delayed his extradition. In July 2010, the ECHR halted the extradition of Babar Ahmad and three other men — Abu Hamza al-Masri, Haroon Rashid Aswat and Talha Ahsan — and called for further submissions, after lawyers argued that, if they were convicted in the US, their conditions of confinement would be so severe that they would amount to a breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (PDF), which guarantees that no one will be “subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Lawyers for the men argued that they would face life without parole (except Aswat, who faced a 50-year sentence), and that holding them in a “Supermax” prison, would contravene their rights, because prolonged isolation is a form of torture. Read the rest of this entry »

Sign the Petition to the British Government: Prevent Babar Ahmad’s Extradition to the US, Put Him on Trial in the UK

Please sign the petition! 100,000 signatures needed (current total: 52,000). Today has been designated National Babar Ahmad Day by his supporters. UPDATE November 2: Congratulations, everyone! 100,863 signatures! Well done to all those involved in this extraordinary campaign!

On August 11, the family of Babar Ahmad launched an e-petition, calling on the UK government to put him on trial in the UK, and bring to an end his seven years of imprisonment without charge or trial in the UK, pending extradition to the US under the controversial Extradition Act of 2003, whereby the US government can demand the extradition of British citizens to face trials in the US without having to provide any evidence that there is a case to answer.

100,000 signatures are needed by November 10, to trigger an official request that Babar Ahmad be tried in the UK. As the petition explains: “In June 2011, the Houses of Parliament, Joint Committee on Human Rights urged the UK government to change the law so that Babar Ahmad’s perpetual threat of extradition is ended without further delay. Since all of the allegations against Babar Ahmad are said to have taken place in the UK, we call upon the British Government to put him on trial in the UK and support British Justice for British Citizens.” Read the rest of this entry »

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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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