Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning’s 35-Year Sentence; Whistleblower Who Leaked Hugely Important Guantánamo Files Will Be Freed in May 2017, Not 2045

Protestors holding signs calling for the release of Chelsea Manning during a gay pride parade in San Francisco in 2015 (Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters via ZUMA Press).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 two months.

Great news from the White House, as, in the dying days of his presidency, Barack Obama has commuted the 35-year sentence of Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning), the former Army intelligence analyst responsible for the largest ever leak of classified documents, including the “Collateral Murder” video, featuring US personnel indiscriminately killing civilians and two Reuters reporters in Iraq, 500,000 army reports (the Afghan War logs and the Iraq War logs), 250,000 US diplomatic cables, and the Guantánamo files, released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, on which I worked as a media partner.

I regard the Guantánamo files as a hugely significant resource, which, unfortunately, have been used by right-wing, Islamophobic magazines and websites in an effort to justify the continued existence of Guantánamo. Like Biblical fundamentalists, who swear that everything in the Bible is true (and who, as a result, are unable to recognize its many contradictions), the right-wing defenders of Guantánamo fail to recognize the huge number of contradictions in the files.

Any intelligent analysis of the files instead reveals the extent to which they lay bare the cruelty and incompetence of the authorities at Guantánamo, providing the names of the many unreliable witnesses, who, as a result of torture or other forms of abuse, or being bribed with better living conditions, or simply through exhaustion after seemingly endless — and pointless — interrogations, told their interrogators what they wanted to hear. And the interrogators, of course, wanted whatever information would make the prisoners appear significant, when, in truth, they had been rounded up in a largely random manner, or had been bought for bounty payments from the Americans’ Afghan or Pakistani allies, and very few — a maximum of 3% of the 779 men held, I estimate — genuinely had any kind of meaningful connection with al-Qaeda, the leadership of the Taliban, or any related groups. Most were either foot soldiers or civilians in the wrong place at the wrong time, dressed up as “terrorists” to justify a dragnet, from September 2001 to November 2003 (when the transfers to Guantánamo largely ended) that is primarily remarkable because of its stunning incompetence. Read the rest of this entry »

In Final Counter-Terrorism Speech, Obama Targets Trump But Fails to Acknowledge His Own Mistakes on Guantánamo and War

President Obama and a quote about Guantanamo from a speech he made on January 5, 2010.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.

On Tuesday, at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, the home of US Special Operations Command and Central Command, President Obama made what is expected to be his final speech on counter-terrorism before he leaves office in just six weeks’ time.

As Jessica Schulberg noted for the Huffington Post, in his speech he “defended his legacy ― both from hawks who have accused him of withdrawing from the Middle East, and from liberals who have criticized his reliance on expansive surveillance and drones to fight wars,” and “sought to convince the country that he had struck the correct balance.”

Spying and drones

However, as Spencer Ackerman noted for the Guardian, this was “a highly selective account of his record, particularly about the mass surveillance architecture he embraced and the drone strikes that will be synonymous with his name.” Read the rest of this entry »

Former Guantánamo Military Defense Attorney Todd Pierce Interviewed by the Talking Dog

Former US military defense attorney Todd Pierce speaking at the presentation of the Sam Adams Associates Award for Integrity in Intelligence to Chelsea Manning in Oxford in February 2014 (Photo: Andy Worthington).I’m delighted to be cross-posting below an interview conducted by my good friend The Talking Dog (functioning below the radar under a pseudonym in New York City) with another good friend, Army Maj. Todd Pierce (retired), who, as a Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer, was part of the defense team for two Guantánamo prisoners charged in the military commissions — Ali Hamza al-Bahlul (still held) and Ibrahim al-Qosi (released in 2012).

Todd became fascinated by the philosophical origins of the Bush-Cheney military commissions in the Nazi era, and efforts to justify the commissions through a warped interpretation of US Civil War precedents. Since retiring, he has continued to pursue these interests, and has also become part of Sam Adams Associates, who describe themselves as “a movement of former CIA colleagues of former intelligence analyst Sam Adams, together with others who hold up his example as a model for those in intelligence who would aspire to the courage to speak truth to power,” and who, every year since 2002, have presented the Sam Adams Associates Award for Integrity in Intelligence to whistleblowers — most recently to Chelsea Manning, at an event in Oxford that I attended in February.

I do hope you have time to read the interview — which also includes Todd’s latest thoughts on the case of Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, who has been successfully appealing against his 2008 conviction and life sentence — with profound repercussions for the entire military commissions project, which, it should be noted, should never have been revived by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in the first place.

If you enjoy it, please share it, and please also follow the links I’m posting at the end of this article to the Talking Dog’s extensive archive of interviews about Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Read the rest of this entry »

In Oxford, WikiLeaks Whistleblower Chelsea Manning Given Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence, Edward Snowden Speaks

Ray McGovern introduces the presentation to Chelsea Manning of the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence in OxfordCraig Murray speaks at the presentation to Chelsea Manning of the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence in OxfordCraig Murray presents the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence to Aaron Kirkhouse on behalf of Chelsea Manning in OxfordAaron Kirkhouse speaks at the presentation to Chelsea Manning of the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence in OxfordAnnie Machon speaks at the presentation to Chelsea Manning of the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence in OxfordTodd Pierce speaks at the presentation to Chelsea Manning of the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence in Oxford
Ann Wright speaks at the presentation to Chelsea Manning of the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence in OxfordEdward Snowden speaks on video at the presentation to Chelsea Manning of the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence in Oxford

Chelsea Manning Given Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence, Oxford, Feb. 19, 2014, a set on Flickr.

Last Wednesday (February 19), I was delighted to travel from London to Oxford to attend the presentation of the Sam Adams Associates Award for Integrity in Intelligence to Chelsea Manning — or rather, to Chelsea’s old school friend Aaron Kirkhouse, who received the award on Manning’s behalf. Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning) was, of course, given a 35-year sentence in August for the largest ever leak of classified documents, including the “Collateral Murder” video, featuring US personnel indiscriminately killing civilians and two Reuters reporters in Iraq, 500,000 army reports (the Afghan War logs and the Iraq War logs), 250,000 US diplomatic cables, and the Guantánamo files, released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, on which I worked as a media partner.

I had been invited by Ray McGovern, former CIA analyst and prominent peace activist, who I met for the first time in Berkeley, California in October 2010, as part of Berkeley Says No to Torture Week, and by Todd Pierce, a recently retired military defense attorney, who worked on a number of Guantánamo cases involving men facing military commissions trials, and who has been a friend for many years. Also speaking at the event for Chelsea Manning were Ann Wright, former US Army colonel and former State Department official, who was one of only three US officials to resign over the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and who I had also met in Berkeley in 2010, and two people I had not met before — the former British ambassador Craig Murray, and MI5 whistleblower Annie Machon.

It was a powerful event, presided over by Ray, who made us all feel at home in the Oxford Union, and introduced the various speakers prior to the presentation of the award to Aaron Kirkhouse on Chelsea’s behalf. Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington Talks to Voice of Russia About the Perils of Blanket Surveillance

Please sign and share the petition, “EU leaders: Stop mass surveillance,” which, shamefully, has just under 5,000 signatures at the time of writing.

Last week, as the European Parliament’s Office of Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs released what Index on Censorship described as “a notably pointed briefing paper arguing for Europe to stop trusting American Internet services,” and Index on Censorship launched a petition on Change.org, entitled, “EU leaders: Stop mass surveillance,” which was also sponsored by numerous other organizations including Amnesty International, English PEN, Article 19, Privacy International, Open Rights Group and Liberty UK, I was called by Nima Green for the radio station Voice of Russia, and asked my thoughts.

Nima’s four and half minute broadcast is available here, and below is a transcript of the broadcast, in which I was pleased to be able to get my point across that blanket surveillance is unacceptable, and that our governments should only be allowed to specifically target those they regard as suspicious in a carefully managed manner with a clear command responsibility and legislation to back it up. I don’t agree with the other speaker in the broadcast, Margaret Gilmore of the Royal United Services Institute, who tries to play down the extent to which surveillance is used. Read the rest of this entry »

Read My Latest Article for Al-Jazeera on Guantánamo’s Military Commissions and the Surveillance State

Dear friends and supporters, I hope you have time to read my latest article for Al-Jazeera, entitled, “At Guantánamo, a microcosm of the surveillance state,” in which I look at the latest scandal to derail the military commission trial system at Guantánamo, exposed in a pre-trial hearing in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four the men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks — a computer problem that has led to over half a million confidential defense emails being handed over to the prosecution, and other files disappearing completely.

In light of the revelations of mass surveillance made public by Edward Snowden in June, the problems at Guantánamo can be seen as part of a bigger picture, even though the main tension at Guantánamo concerns torture — the government’s wish to hide its use on the “high-value detainees,” and the defense’s mission to expose it — rather than excessive surveillance as a matter of course.

I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to write for Al-Jazeera about the military commissions, which I’ve been writing about for seven and a half years. I got to briefly run through the history of the commissions in my article, reminding me that, when I first began researching Guantánamo in 2006, for my book The Guantánamo Files, the commissions were already regarded as a disgrace, a torture-laundering farce dragged from the history books by Vice President Dick Cheney, which had struggled to establish any credibility whatsoever. Furthermore, this situation didn’t improve after the Supreme Court found the commissions illegal, in June 2006, and Congress then brought them back to life with a raft of invented war crimes. My first article about the commissions was in June 2007, and the broken system exposed there continues to be broken, and to shame America. Read the rest of this entry »

Audio: Andy Worthington Speaks about Guantánamo at the “Independence from America” Protest at RAF Menwith Hill, July 4, 2013

Last week, I had the opportunity to join up with a phenomenal collection of activists — from the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases (CAAB) — on top of the Yorkshire Dales at Menwith Hill, an RAF base that acts as a front for the NSA (the US National Security Agency), which has been in charge of the base since 1966 — a very topical arrangement, given the recent revelations about the NSA by former analyst Edward Snowden.

I had been invited — to speak about Guantánamo — by Lindis Percy, a tireless campaigner against militarism, who has been arrested and imprisoned on numerous occasions, and my talk — just over 20 minutes in total — is available here, as an MP3.

An Indymedia page reporting on the event — including the photo above — is here, and it also includes links to some of the other guests, including Salma Yaqoob, psychotherapist, Chair of Birmingham Stop the War and a spokesperson for Birmingham Central Mosque, who gave a great speech.

My talk was, I believe, a useful explanation of why Guantánamo is still open, and why it remains, as it has always been, a moral, legal and ethical abomination, and a place that should be a source of shame to anyone with a shred of decency.

I spoke about the prison’s history, about the ongoing prison-wide hunger strike, now in its sixth month, about the obstacles raised by Congress to prevent the closure of the prison and the release of prisoners, and about the generally lesser-known obstacles raised by President Obama. Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington Attends Protest Against US Bases in UK and Discusses Guantánamo at Menwith Hill Base on July 4

Several months ago, I responded to a request to attend the annual “Independence From America” protest on July 4, the American Day of Independence, outside RAF Menwith Hill near Harrogate in Yorkshire. The event is organised by the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases (CAAB), and I was invited by Lindis Percy, a veteran activist who has been arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned on numerous occasions, to speak about Guantánamo. I was, of course, delighted to accept the invitation, and I look forward to the brief return to my roots, as I grew up in the north of England.

The protest will be from 5 to 9 pm, and other speakers are Salma Yaqoob, psychotherapist, Chair of Birmingham Stop the War and a spokesperson for Birmingham Central Mosque, and the journalist Martin Wainwright of the Guardian. Other guests include Mizan the Poet, the folk singers Ziggurat, and the East Lancs Clarion Choir, “Quaker Walkers celebrating 100 years of the Northern Friends Peace Board,” and there will also be a drumming workshop with Steve Hill of the Daftasadrum Drum Circle group.

At the time I accepted the invitation, none of us knew how the existence of an alarmingly overreaching surveillance state would be in the news at the time of the protest, as a result of the revelations of the US whistleblower Edward Snowden, because there are few places that symbolize this problem as powerfully as Menwith Hill. Nominally an RAF station that provides communications and intelligence support services to the UK and the US, it has actually been controlled by America since its establishment in 1954, and has been in the control of the NSA (the National Security Agency, the organisation at the heart of Snowden’s complaints) since 1966. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses Edward Snowden, Whistleblowers and the Overreach of Surveillance on Voice of Russia

On Thursday, I took part in a fascinating conversation on Voice of Russia about Edward Snowden, the role of whistleblowers and the surveillance state. The discussion was entitled, “How far can politicians go to protect our security?” and I was with Brendan Cole in London, while, in Moscow, Dmitry Medvedenko’s guest was Dr. Boris Martynov, Deputy Head of the Institute of Latin America in Moscow, and in Washington Rob Sachs’ guest was Bruce Zagaris, a partner with Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe LLP.

The 40-minute show is available here, and in it I made a particular point of explaining how far too much of the mainstream media is obsessively focusing on Edward Snowden’s search for asylum, rather than focusing on the aspect of the story that is much more significant — the fact, as I put it, that “he felt compelled to sacrifice his career because he wanted to reveal the extent that people were being spied on by their governments.”

I also explained why that is so important — because, instead of governments regarding their citizens as “innocent until proven guilty,” they have revealed themselves — with America in the driving seat — as “massively obsessed with trawling for information about all of us,” and having “an obsession with power and a sense of paranoia that is very inappropriate.” Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Defends Bradley Manning and Whistleblowers on Voice of Russia

Last week, as the trial of Bradley Manning finally got underway at Fort Meade in Maryland, nearly three years after the military analyst was first arrested for the biggest leak of classified documents in US history, I was asked to take part in a radio show on Voice of Russia, the radio station whose UK studio is in St. James’s Square in central London.

The show was entitled, “Bradley Manning and the nature of intelligence,” and involved guests in three studios — in Washington D.C, Moscow and London. It was 45 minutes in total, but the London segment has been made available as an audio file, and can be listened to, or downloaded here.

I appeared in London alongside John Gearson, Professor of National Security Studies, and Director of the Centre for Defence Studies at King’s College London, and our host was Hywel Davis.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to speak about the importance of Bradley Manning’s whistleblowing, and to explain why I believe that, although he obviously disobeyed the rules governing the behavior of US military personnel, the attempt to claim that he was “aiding the enemy” is absurd, and the military — and the Obama administration — should, at most, have settled for the 20-year sentence that is the maximum punishment for the crimes to which Manning has already agreed. 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, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer (The State of London).
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