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.

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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.

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.

Standing the Test of Time: “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo”

The poster for the documentary film “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo”, directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, which recently marked the tenth anniversary of its release.

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.





 

On Friday, I was delighted to take part in one of the few regular Guantánamo-related events that are left in my calendar, as the prison becomes something of a footnote in the history books.

This amnesia is, to be blunt, genuinely alarming, because the prison is as malignantly alive as ever, a pointless zombie facility still holding 40 men, mostly without charge or trial, for whom no legal mechanism to secure their release exists, and who will all die there unless there is a change of government, and an awakened sense of outrage in the three bodies that supposedly provide checks and balances to prevent any manifestation of executive overreach in the US — the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court, all of whom have failed the men still held.

The event on Friday was a screening of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” — the documentary film I co-directed with Polly Nash, which was released ten years ago, in October 2009 — to second-year students at the University of Westminster, who are studying International Relations under Sam Raphael, followed by a lively discussion about Guantánamo past, present and future.

Read the rest of this entry »

Reprieve and MPs Dan Jarvis and David Davis Challenge Government’s Refusal to Launch Official Inquiry Into British Complicity in Torture

Protestor – and US veteran – Bob Meddaugh with a powerful universal message at a protest vigil in Des Moines, Iowa, in December 2010 (Photo: Justin Norman).

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 and the government of Boris Johnson. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.





 

Last week, largely lost in the Brexit fog that engulfs almost all other political activity in the UK these days, the NGO Reprieve, and two principled MPs — Labour’s Dan Jarvis and the Conservative David Davis — launched a legal challenge against the government in connection with a recent ministerial decision to “abandon a promise to hold a judge-led inquiry into torture and rendition involving British intelligence agencies after 9/11,” as the Guardian described it.

Jarvis, Davis and Reprieve have submitted an application for a judicial review in the High Court as the latest step in a decade-long struggle to secure transparency about the UK’s involvement in the Bush administration’s CIA-led program of rendition and torture.

Back in July 2010, shortly after taking office in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, David Cameron — pushed by the foreign secretary William Hague — announced a judge-led inquiry, as I reported here, telling the House of Commons that he had asked Sir Peter Gibson, a retired judge, to “look at whether Britain was implicated in the improper treatment of detainees held by other countries that may have occurred in the aftermath of 9/11,” and noting that, although there was no evidence that any British officer was “directly engaged in torture,” there were “questions over the degree to which British officers were working with foreign security services who were treating detainees in ways they should not have done.”

Read the rest of this entry »

North Carolina Citizens’ Group Launches Investigation of CIA’s Bush-Era Rendition and Torture Program

Christina Cowger and Allyson Caison of North Carolina Stop Torture Now protesting against Aero Contractors, who flew rendition flights for the CIA’s torture program, in January 2013. Cowger is now part of the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture (Photo: Bob Geary).Please support my work! 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.





 

Last month, the Associated Press picked up on an important anti-torture initiative in North Carolina, which, in turn, was picked up by the New York Times. and, in the UK, the Independent. I didn’t have the opportunity to mention it at the time, so I’m doing so now, as I want to play my part in trying to get it to a wider audience.

The Times ran the article under the headline, “Citizens’ Group Aims to Investigate CIA Rendition Program,” explaining how, on Wednesday March 15 in Raleigh, North Carolina, the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture — a group of academics, retired military officers and ministers — announced plans “to hold public hearings in North Carolina to highlight a government program they hope won’t be repeated: the secret CIA interrogation sites where suspected terrorists might be tortured.”

As their website describes it, the NCCIT was “set up to investigate and encourage public debate about the role that North Carolina played in facilitating the US torture program carried out between 2001 [and] 2009. This non-governmental inquiry responds to the lack of recognition by North Carolina’s publicly elected officials and the US government of citizens’ need to know how their tax dollars and state assets were used to support unlawful detention, torture, and rendition.” Read the rest of this entry »

Parliament and the People: Two Days of London Events About Guantánamo, Torture and the Military Commissions

Sam Raphael, Alka Pradhan, Andy Worthington and Carla Ferstman at an event about Guantanamo, torture and the military commissions at the University of Westminster on November 2, 2016 (photo via Gitmo Watch).

Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo until the end of the year.

 

So last week was an interesting week for events focused on Guantánamo, torture and the military commissions in London, as Alka Pradhan, a lawyer with the defense team for Ammar al-Baluchi (aka Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali), a “high-value detainee,” and one of five men facing a trial for his alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks, was in town, and as a result MPs who, for the most part, had been involved in the campaign to free Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, had arranged a Parliamentary meeting.

The meeting was also called to coincide with a visit from Andrew Tyrie MP (Conservative, Chichester), the chair of the long-standing All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition, and the election of officers for a new APPG on Guantánamo. It was chaired by Tom Brake MP (Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington), who held a Parliamentary meeting earlier this year for Mohamedou Ould Slahi, the torture victim and best-selling author who was recently released from Guantánamo, and attended by MPs including Chris Law (SNP, Dundee West), who will be the chair of the new APPG, and Andy Slaughter (Labour, Hammersmith), who, in 2014, visited Washington, D.C. to call for Shaker Aamer’s release with the Conservative MPs David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, and Jeremy Corbyn, before he became the leader of the Labour Party. Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion) and Mark Durkan (SDLP) were unable to make it to the meeting, but will also be involved in the APPG.

At the meeting, Alka briefed MPs on the story of her client, which I recently wrote about for Al-Jazeera, as he sought to persuade the US government to allow the UN Rapporteur for Torture to make an independent visit to Guantánamo to assess the conditions in which they are held, and to talk freely with them about their torture in CIA “black sites.” Unsurprisingly, no independent visit has been allowed, because the US government is determined to continue hiding evidence of the CIA’s torture program, despite the publication, nearly two years ago, of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the CIA’s torture program, with its damning verdict on the brutality and futility of the program, and the CIA’s repeated lies about it. Read the rest of this entry »

Torture Victim Abu Zubaydah, Seen For the First Time in 14 Years, Seeks Release from Guantánamo

Abu Zubaydah: illustration by Brigid Barrett from an article in Wired in July 2013. The photo used is from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.On August 23, 2016, the most notorious torture victim in Guantánamo, Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, better known as Abu Zubaydah, became the 61st prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board, and was seen for the first time by anyone outside of the US military and intelligence agencies, apart from representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, his attorneys and translators, since his capture 14 years and five months ago.

For the Guardian, David Smith wrote, “His dark hair was neat, his moustache and beard impeccably trimmed. His shirt was high-collared and spotlessly white. He sat at the head of the table with a calm, composed mien. It was the first time that the world has seen Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Husayn, also known as Abu Zubaydah, since his capture in Pakistan 14 years ago.” He added that, “[a]fter a brief technical hitch, a TV screen showed a room with a plain white wall and black shiny table. Anyone walking in cold might have assumed that Abu Zubaydah, with the appearance of a doctor or lawyer, was chairing the meeting. To his left sat an interpreter, dressed casually in shirtsleeves, and to his right were two personal representatives in military uniform with papers before them. A counsel was unable to attend due to a family medical emergency.”

Smith also noted that he “sat impassive, expressionless and silent throughout, sometimes resting his head on his hand or putting a finger to his mouth or chin, and studying his detainee profile intently as it was read aloud by an unseen woman.” Read the rest of this entry »

UK Human Rights Groups Dismiss Rendition and Torture Inquiry as a Whitewash

An image of torture.Nine human rights groups in the UK are boycotting the official British inquiry into the treatment of “detainees” in the “war on terror” and the UK’s involvement in rendition, “grievously undermining the controversial inquiry,” as the Guardian described it.

The nine groups, who have written a critical letter to Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, stating that they “do not propose to play a substantive role in the conduct of [the] inquiry,” are Amnesty International, the AIRE Centre (Advice on Individual Rights in Europe), Cage (formerly Cageprisoners), Freedom from Torture (formerly the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture), JUSTICE, Liberty, Redress, Reprieve and Rights Watch (UK).

Britain’s treatment of prisoners and its involvement in rendition was a matter of concern to Conservative MP William Hague when he was the shadow foreign secretary, prior to the Tories forming a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats in May 2010. Hague seemed genuinely appalled by what had taken place since 9/11 — a litany of broken laws and human rights abuses, including, most noticeably, the torture of Binyam Mohamed, whose case had reached the High Court in 2008, causing embarrassment to both the UK and US governments. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: “Songs of War,” an Al-Jazeera Film About Music Torture in Guantánamo, Afghanistan and Iraq

In a new film for Al-Jazeera, “Songs of War: Music as a Weapon,” the filmmaker Tristan Chytroschek follows “Sesame Street” composer Christopher Cerf on a journey to discover how his music came to be used as a weapon in the Bush administration’s “war on terror” — and also to investigate the history of music as torture.

As the production company, Java Films, explained:

[Christopher Cerf] always wanted his music to be fun and entertaining. But then he learned that his songs had been used to torture prisoners in Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. He is stunned by this abuse of his work and wants to find out how this could happen. Cerf embarks on a journey to learn what makes music such a powerful stimulant. In the process, he speaks to soldiers, psychologists and prisoners tortured with his music at Guantánamo and find out how the military has been employing music as a potent weapon for hundreds of years.

The film is available on Al-Jazeera’s website here. Read the rest of this entry »

10 Years in Guantánamo: British Resident Shaker Aamer, Cleared for Release But Still Held

Originally posted on the “Close Guantánamo” website, and written by Andy Worthington.

Ten years ago, on February 14, 2002, Shaker Aamer, a British resident, and originally one of 16 British prisoners in Guantánamo, arrived in Camp X-Ray, the rudimentary prison in the grounds of the US naval base in Cuba’s easternmost bay, which was used to hold prisoners until the first blocks of a more permanent facility, Camp Delta, opened for business in May 2002. On the same day, his fourth child, a son, was born.

A hugely charismatic figure, Aamer, born in Saudi Arabia in 1968, had moved to London in 1996, and had worked as an Arabic translator for a firm of solicitors working on immigration cases. He met and married a British woman and was granted residency. In June 2001, he took his family to Kabul — as did his friend Moazzam Begg — to volunteer for an Islamic charity. As his British solicitor Gareth Peirce noted in the Guardian on Tuesday, “Their work was teaching the sons and daughters of Arabic-speaking expatriates in the capital,” but after 9/11 and the US-led invasion, “the school was flattened in the first days of the bombing.”

Shaker made sure his pregnant wife and their three young children were safe, but was seized by Afghan bounty hunters, at a time when bounty payments of $5,000 a head were widespread. He was then sold on to other bounty hunters on two occasions, and on the third occasion was bought by Northern Alliance soldiers, who eventually handed him over — or sold him — to US forces. Read the rest of this entry »

Moazzam Begg, Andy Worthington and Polly Nash Attend Screening of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” at the European Parliament, Brussels, January 24, 2012

On Tuesday January 24, at 7 pm, there will be a special screening of the acclaimed documentary film “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington) at the European Parliament in Brussels. The screening will take place in the main European Parliament building, the Altiero Spinelli Building, Rue Wiertz, in Room ASP – 3G2, on the 3rd floor, and Moazzam Begg, former Guantánamo prisoner, and the director of the NGO Cageprisoners, will be joining Andy Worthington and Polly Nash for the screening, and for the Q&A session afterwards.

The screening has been arranged by Jean Lambert (UK Green MEP), with the support of Sarah Ludford (UK Liberal Democrat MEP) and Ana Gomes (Portuguese Socialist MEP), and the purpose of the screening is to raise awareness of the continued existence of Guantánamo, and its mockery of universal notions of fairness and justice, ten years after the prison opened, on January 11, 2002. Given President Obama’s very public failure to close the prison as promised, it is essential that other countries step forward to take cleared prisoners who cannot be safely repatriated, and one of the main purposes of the screening and the visit of Moazzam Begg and Andy Worthington is to encourage EU countries to re-engage with the process of resettling prisoners that was so successful in 2009 and 2010.

The screening is free, but anyone who wishes to attend needs to contact Rachel Sheppard, the Parliamentary Assistant to Jean Lambert MEP. If those wishing to attend do not already have an access badge for the European Parliament, they need to provide their full name, date of birth, nationality, passport number or ID card and number and also specify the type of document (passport, ID card) so that access badges can be arranged. Without an access badge, those wishing to attend the screening will not be allowed. 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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