Two Years On From the Grenfell Tower Fire, A Growing Anger at the Way Those in Social Housing Continue to be Treated as Disposable

A photo of Grenfell Tower, lit up with a green light, and bearing the message ‘Forever in our hearts’, on the eve of the 2nd anniversary of the fire that killed 72 people on June 14, 2017, for which no one has yet been held accountable (Photo: Tim Downie on Twitter).

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Two years ago, I switched on my TV and watched in horror as flames engulfed Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey tower block on the Lancaster West Estate in North Kensington, in west London, leading to the loss of 72 lives.

To anyone with even the most cursory knowledge of the safety systems built into concrete tower blocks, it was clear that this was a disaster that should never have happened. Compartmentalisation — involving a requirement that any fire that breaks out in any individual flat should be able to be contained for an hour, allowing the emergency services time to arrive and deal with it — had failed, as had the general ability of the block to prevent the easy spread of fire throughout the building. Instead, Grenfell Tower went up in flames as though it had had petrol poured on it.

It took very little research to establish that what had happened was an entire system failure, caused by long-term neglect and a failure to provide adequate safety measures (in particular, the tower had no sprinkler system fitted), and, more recently, through a refurbishment process that had turned a previously safe tower into a potential inferno. 

Read the rest of this entry »

Defend Julian Assange and WikiLeaks: Press Freedom Depends On It

Julian Assange, photographed after his arrest at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London on Thursday April 10, 2019 (Photo: Henry Nicholls/Reuters).

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Last week, when Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, was dragged out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London after the Ecuadorian government withdrew the asylum it had granted to him after he sought shelter there in 2012, I was about to set off on a long weekend away, without computer access, and I only had time to write a few brief paragraphs about the significance of his case on Facebook.

I noted that his arrest “ought to be of great concern to anyone who values the ability of the media, in Western countries that claim to respect the freedom of the press, to publish information about the wrongdoing of Western governments that they would rather keep hidden.” 

I also explained, “Those who leak information, like Chelsea Manning” — who leaked hundreds of thousands of pages of classified US government documents to WikiLeaks, and is now imprisoned because of her refusal to testify in a Grand Jury case against WikiLeaks — “need protection, and so do those in the media who make it publicly available; Julian Assange and WikiLeaks as much as those who worked with them on the release of documents — the New York Times and the Guardian, for example.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Please Watch ‘The Trial’, A Powerful Video About Guantánamo’s Broken Military Commission Trial System

A screenshot, from 'The Trial,' of Ammar al-Baluchi's defense team - from the left, Alka Pradhan, James Connell and Lt. Col. Sterling Thomas.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.




 

In the long and horrendously unjust story of Guantánamo, the two key elements of America’s flight from the law since 9/11 have been the use of torture, and the imprisonment of men, indefinitely, without charge or trial. A third element is the decision to try some of these men, in a trial system ill-advisedly dragged out of the history books by former Vice President Dick Cheney and his legal adviser David Addington.

That system — the military commissions — has struggled to deliver anything resembling justice, in large part because it was designed to accept evidence produced through torture, and then to execute prisoners after cursory trials. The Supreme Court ruled this system illegal in 2006, but Congress then tweaked it and revived it, and, after Barack Obama became president, it was tweaked and revised again instead of being scrapped, as it should have been.

Throughout this whole sorry period, the US federal courts have, in contrast, proven adept at successfully prosecuting those accused of terrorism, but at Guantánamo the commissions have struggled to successfully convict anyone. Since 2008, just eight cases have gone to trial, but six were settled via plea deals, and, of the other two, one ended up with the prisoner in question (Salim Hamdan, a hapless driver for Osama bin Laden)  being released after just five months, while the other was an outrageously one-sided affair, as the prisoner in question (Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a propagandist for Al-Qaeda) refused even to mount a defense. The commissions also have a history of collapsing on appeal — and with good reason, as the alleged war crimes most of the prisoners were convicted of were actually invented by Congress. For an overview of the commissions, see my article, The Full List of Prisoners Charged in the Military Commissions at Guantánamo. Read the rest of this entry »

As the Stansted 15 Avoid Jail, The “Hostile Environment” Continues with Disgraceful New Windrush Flight to Jamaica

The Stansted 15 on Wednesday February 6, 2019, outside Chelmsford Crown Court, on the day they learned that no one would face a custodial sentence for their role in preventing a deportation flight from leaving the airport in March 2017.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.




 

So there was good news on Wednesday, as the Stansted 15 — activists who prevented a deportation flight from leaving Stansted Airport for west Africa in March 2017 — avoided jail. Three received suspended sentences (with two also receiving 250 hours of community service, with 100 hours for the third), eleven others were given 100 hours of community service, while the 15th “received a 12-month community order with 20 days of rehabilitation”, as the Guardian described it.

However, two troubling aspects of the story remain significant. The first is that the protestors were convicted on charges of terrorism, and, alarmingly, that conviction still stands. As Ash Sardar wrote for the Independent, “Rather than being convicted of aggravated trespass, as other protesters who committed similar offences had been in 2016, the Stansted 15 had an initial trespass charge changed four months into their bail to a charge of ‘endangering safety at aerodromes’ – a scheduled terrorist offence, which potentially carries a life sentence.” The 2016 protest, at Heathrow Airport, against proposals for the airport’s expansion, involved three protestors who were part of the later actions at Stansted — the three who received the suspended sentences. 

Continuing with her analysis of the sentencing in the Independent, Ash Sardar added, “This particular bit of legislation – from the Aviation and Maritime Security Act 1990, if anyone’s interested – was brought in after the Lockerbie bombing of 1988. Its application in a protest case is completely unprecedented in English courts. You might not agree with the actions of the Stansted 15, but this punitive and misguided use of legislation to criminalise protesters should have you worried regardless.” Read the rest of this entry »

Saifullah and Uzair Paracha: Victims of US Vengeance in the “War on Terror”?

Saifullah and Uzair Paracha. Saifulllah was photographed a few years ago in Guantanamo; the photo of Uzair is from before his capture in 2003.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.




 

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 “war on terror” established by the US in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, one of the most distressing developments has been the death of the presumption of innocence and of any form of due process.

In response to the attacks, the Bush administration tore up and discarded all the laws and treaties regarding the treatment of prisoners, and as a result everyone they rounded up as a terrorist (or a terrorist sympathizer or facilitator) was regarded as guilty — without the need for any proof.

The terrible legacy of this time is still with us. Although the processing prisons in Afghanistan (Bagram, for example) and the CIA “black sites” have closed, 40 men are still held in the prison at Guantánamo Bay, the defining icon of the US’s post-9/11 lawlessness.

Of the 779 men held by the US military at Guantánamo since it opened over 17 years ago, on January 11, 2002, 729 men have been released, but only 39 of those 729 have been released through any legal process — 33 through the US courts, as a result of them having their habeas corpus petitions granted by judges in the District Court in Washington, D.C., and six others through the military commission trial process at Guantánamo itself (one after a trial, and five through plea deals). Read the rest of this entry »

Why the Conviction of the Stansted 15, on Terrorism-Related Charges, Must Be Overturned

The Stansted 15 (Photo: Kristian Buus / Getty Images).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

As someone who has spent the last 13 years working to end imprisonment without charge or trial at Guantánamo, it has always been chilling to see these institutional crimes echoed in the UK. Under Tony Blair, foreign-born, alleged terror suspects were held without charge or trial on the basis of secret evidence, while other foreign nationals, and British nationals too, also regarded as terror suspects, were subjected to a form of house arrest, also on the basis of secret evidence, under what were known as “control orders.”

Unfortunately, throughout this period, the use of immigration detention was also on the rise. As the Guardian explained in an article in October based on a survey of its history, “The power to detain was created in the 1971 Immigration Act – however, it was not until the Labour government under Tony Blair that the detention estate expanded to become what it is today. In 2000, detention centres could hold 475 people, with another 200 or so held under immigration powers in prisons. Capacity has now expanded to about 3,500 spaces.”

The Guardian article noted that “[m]ore than 27,000 people were detained in 2017, according to the most recent figures”, adding, “Detention is now a significant part of the UK’s immigration enforcement efforts, but locking up immigrants without a time limit is a relatively recent phenomenon.” Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: The WOMAD World Music Festival 2018 – Global Joy and Creativity, Threatened by Brexit

Photos by Andy Worthington from the WOMAD world music festival 2018.See my photos on Flickr here!

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Since 2002, the end of July every year has been defined for me by my participation in WOMAD (World of Music, Art and Dance), the world music festival founded in 1982, which I attend with family and friends, working at the children’s workshops. These involve hundreds of children making all manner of wonderful creations, and they culminate in a childrens’ procession on Sunday evening through the whole of the festival site.

I’ve taken photos of the festival every year, and have made them available on Flickr since 2012 — see the photos from 2012 here and here, from 2014 here, from 2015 here, from 2016 here and from 2017 here.

This year everyone expected that the heatwave that began at the end of May would continue throughout the festival, but although Friday, the first day of the festival (and the two days before when we were setting up) were deliriously hot, the weather turned on the Saturday, although the festival-goers’ spirits were generally undimmed.

I had a wonderful time this year, thanks to the great company, in particular, as well as — of course — great music as always from around the world. I also particularly enjoyed helping to facilitate the children’s creativity during the workshops, and also enjoyed playing with Richard from The Four Fathers at the Open Mic at Molly’s Bar (where my son Tyler joined us beatboxing) and also watching Tyler perform with his friends Caleb and Haroun, and, on Sunday evening, taking part in a wonderfully successful workshop with two other members of the BAC Beatbox Academy, Conrad and Nate, who came from London to give a WOMAD audience an exhilarating masterclass in the art of beatboxing. Read the rest of this entry »

UK Torture: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner’s Memories Provide A Reminder That We Need Accountability

Protestors with Witness Against Torture calling for the closure of Guantanamo and accountability for torture outside the White House on January 11, 2015 (Photo: Andy Worthington).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.




 

How short memories are in this goldfish world of ours. Less than a month ago, Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) issued two reports, one on ‘Detainee Mistreatment and Rendition: 2001–2010’ and the other on ‘Detainee Mistreatment and Rendition: Current Issues.’

On Facebook, I commended Dominic Grieve MP for his stewardship of the ISC, and for having spent years trying to uncover the truth about Britain’s involvement in post-9/11 rendition and torture, inspired, I have no doubt, by the US’s demonstration of checks and balances in its own political system, with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,200-page report, of which the 528-page executive summary was issued in December 2014, providing a permanent reminder that, in contrast, the UK tends to prefer an all-encompassing blanket of “official secrecy” regarding its own wrong-doing.

I wrote of the ISC’s reports, “This is compelling stuff, and a testament to Grieve’s determination to go beyond previous whitewashes, but what is clearly needed now is an official judge-led inquiry which will leave no stone unturned — and no senior ex-officials (up to and including Tony Blair and Jack Straw) unquestioned. Grieve noted that the committee was ‘denied access to key intelligence individuals by the prime minister’ (Theresa May) and so ‘reluctantly decided to bring the inquiry to a premature end.’” Read the rest of this entry »

Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s Supreme Court Nomination, Has a Dangerous Track Record of Defending Guantánamo and Unfettered Executive Power

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump and a close-up of Guantanamo prisoners photographed on the day the prison opened, January 11, 2002. The photo on the left is an edit of a photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images.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.




 

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.

Disgraceful though Donald Trump’s presidency is, it will at least be over at some point in the imaginable future, with the potential that his most outrageous policy changes, enacted in legislation by a Republican majority in Congress, can be reversed should Congress end up with a Democratic majority instead.

When it comes to interpreting the law, however, his impact will last for decades, through his nominations to the nation’s District Courts, appeals courts (the Circuit Courts), and, most crucially, the Supreme Court.

Shamefully, although Barack Obama successfully nominated two of the Supreme Court’s nine justices during his eight years in office (Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan), Congress — where Republicans had a majority, as they did throughout most of Obama’s presidency — refused to consider his third nomination, Merrick Garland, nominated in March 2016. Garland’s appointment would have given Democratic appointees a majority on the Supreme Court for the first time since 1970, but Garland’s nomination expired in January 2017, when Obama left office, and when Donald Trump took over he wasted no time in nominating Neil Gorsuch instead, a dangerous right-winger whose nomination was subsequently approved by the Republican-controlled Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

Tomorrow, Lawyers Will Argue in Court That Donald Trump’s Guantánamo Policy Is “Arbitrary, Unlawful, and Motivated by Executive Hubris and Anti-Muslim Animus”

Senior Judge Thomas F. Hogan of the District Court in Washington, D.C. and a photo of prisoners at Guantanamo on the day of the prison's opening, January 11, 2002. 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.




It’s a big day for Guantánamo tomorrow, as lawyers for eleven prisoners still held at the prison will be arguing before Senior Judge Thomas F. Hogan in the District Court in Washington, D.C. that, as the New York-based Center for Constitutonal Rights describe it, “[Donald] Trump’s proclamation that he will not release anyone from Guantánamo regardless of their circumstances is arbitrary, unlawful, and motivated by executive hubris and anti-Muslim animus.”

The lawyers submitted a habeas corpus petition for the men on January 11 this year, the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison, as I explained in an article at the time, entitled, As Guantánamo Enters Its 17th Year of Operations, Lawyers Hit Trump with Lawsuit Stating That His Blanket Refusal to Release Anyone Amounts to Arbitrary Detention.

As I also explained in that article, “The eleven men are: Tawfiq al-Bihani (ISN 893) aka Tofiq or Toffiq al-Bihani, a Yemeni who was approved for release by Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2010, Abdul Latif Nasser (ISN 244) aka Abdu Latif Nasser, a Moroccan approved for release in 2016 by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process, and nine others whose ongoing imprisonment was upheld by their PRBs: Yemenis Zohair al-Sharabi aka Suhail Sharabi (ISN 569), Said Nashir (ISN 841), Sanad al-Kazimi (ISN 1453) and Sharqawi al-Hajj (ISN 1457), Pakistanis Abdul Rabbani (ISN 1460) and Ahmed Rabbani (ISN 1461), the Algerian Saeed Bakhouche (ISN 685), aka Said Bakush, mistakenly known as Abdul Razak or Abdul Razak Ali, Abdul Malik aka Abdul Malik Bajabu (ISN 10025), a Kenyan, and one of the last men to be brought to the prison — inexplicably — in 2007, and Abu Zubaydah (ISN 10016), one of Guantánamo’s better-known prisoners, a stateless Palestinian, for whom the post-9/11 torture program was initially conceived, under the mistaken belief that he was a high-ranking member of al-Qaeda.” 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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