A Celebration of Guantánamo Activism Past and Present by Witness Against Torture’s Jeremy Varon

Witness Against Torture activists occupy the Smithsonian National Museum of American History on January 11, 2014, the 12th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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The following cross-posted article, with my introduction, was originally published on 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.

Two weeks ago, we marked 7,000 days of Guantánamo’s existence as part of our ongoing photo campaign, with supporters sending in photos of themselves holding up posters marking how long the prison had been open, and urging President Biden to close it.

Since President Biden’s inauguration two months ago, his administration has thrown only a few crumbs of hope to campaigners for the closure of the prison, with which we have had to sustain ourselves — defense secretary Gen. Lloyd Austin telling the Senate that it’s “time for Guantánamo to close its doors,” and press secretary Jen Psaki announcing a “robust” review of the prison, in the 20th year of its operations, and the administration’s “intention” to close it.

As we await further news, we’re delighted that a great friend of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, Jeremy Varon, has written a detailed article for Waging Nonviolence, “an independent, non-profit media platform dedicated to providing original reporting and expert analysis of social movements around the world.”

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A Guantánamo Insider’s Detailed Proposal for How Joe Biden Can Finally Close the Prison

A composite image of President Elect Joe Biden and Camp 6 at Guantánamo.

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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.

With Joe Biden’s victory in the Presidential Election, it’s reassuring that Guantánamo is back on the radar, after four long years under Donald Trump in which time may as well have stood still.

The Just Security website has just published a powerful article, “A Path for Renewing Guantánamo Closure,” which we’re cross-posting below. It was written by Benjamin R. Farley, who served as Senior Adviser to the Special Envoy for Guantánamo Closure at the U.S. Department of State from 2013-17, and is currently a Trial Attorney and Law-of-War Counsel at the U.S. Department of Defense, Military Commissions Defense Organization, assigned to the team representing Ammar al-Baluchi, one of the five co-defendants in the 9/11 trial.

Farley explains how, of the 40 men still held, 30 can be released “simply by restoring, with slight modification, the successful GTMO closure policy process developed during the Obama administration,” although he concedes that, “[t]o finish the remaining 25 percent of the project, [he] will likely need the historically elusive support of Congress.”

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The Ongoing and Unjustifiable Persecution of Julian Assange

A van bearing the message ‘Don’t extradite Assange’, photographed today, September 9, 2020, in Waterloo (Photo: Andy Worthington).

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A hugely important struggle for press freedom is currently taking place in the Old Bailey in London, where, on Monday, three weeks of hearings began regarding the proposed extradition to the US of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. In 2010 and 2011, WikiLeaks published documents leaked by a serving member of the US military — Bradley, now Chelsea Manning — that exposed evidence of war crimes committed by the US and, in the case of my particular area of expertise, Guantánamo.

The Guantánamo revelations were contained in classified military files relating to almost all of the 779 men held at the prison by the uS military since it opened in January 2002, which, for the first time, explicitly revealed how profoundly unreliable the supposed evidence against the prisoners was, much of it having been made by prisoners who had made numerous false statements against their fellow prisoners. I worked with WikiLeaks as a media partner for the release of the Guantánamo files, and my summary of the files’ significance can be found in the article I wrote when they were first published entitled, WikiLeaks Reveals Secret Guantánamo Files, Exposes Detention Policy as a Construct of Lies.

I should add that I am one of the witnesses for the defence, and will be appearing in court sometime over the next few weeks to discuss the significance of the Guantánamo files. See this post by Kevin Gosztola of Shadowproof listing those taking part, who include Professor Noam Chomsky, Jameel Jaffer, the executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, journalists John Goetz, Jakob Augstein, Emily Dische-Becker and Sami Ben Garbia, lawyers Eric Lewis and Barry Pollack, and Dr. Sondra Crosby, a medical doctor who examined Assange while he was in the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he lived for almost seven years after claiming asylum in 2012.

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If Elected in November, Will Joe Biden Close Guantánamo?

A composite photo of Joe Biden and a guard tower at Guantánamo.

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.

With just four months to go until the US Presidential Election, there is hope, in some quarters, that Donald Trump will lose to Joe Biden. The fact that this is not a foregone conclusion shows how broken American politics has become. Openly racist, Trump has been the most incoherent president imaginable, and is currently mired in a COVID-19 crisis of his own making, as the virus continues on its deadly path, largely unchecked, through swathes of the US population. And yet he retains a base of support that doesn’t make it certain that he will lose in November.

His opponent, Joe Biden, Barack Obama’s vice president for eight years, faces problems of his own. 77 years old, he is even older than Trump, and in terms of representing the people of the US, it is somewhat dispiriting that the choice is between two white men in their 70s. Nevertheless, on many fronts — not least on Guantánamo — it is inconceivable that Biden can do a worse job than Trump has over the excruciating three and a half years since he took office in January 2017.

On Guantánamo, Trump announced in a tweet, several weeks before his inauguration, that “there must be no more releases from Gitmo,” and he has been almost entirely true to his word. He inherited 41 prisoners from Obama, and only one of those men has been released — a Saudi citizen who was transferred back to Saudi Arabia for ongoing imprisonment in February 2018, to honor a plea deal agreed in his military commission trial in 2014.

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Closing Guantánamo, the Democrats and the NDAA

Campaigners calling for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay walk past Congress on January 11, 2012, the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison.

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 long and dispiriting story of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, where, in defiance of its purported values, the US is holding men indefinitely without charge or trial, the role of Congress is not always well understood.

Under George W. Bush, lawmakers were largely compliant with the shameful innovations introduced after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, passing the Authorization for Use of Military Force, the week after the attacks, which allowed the president to pursue anyone that he felt was associated with Al-Qaeda, the Taliban or associated forces, and to imprison them at the Guantánamo prison, which was deliberately established on the US naval base in Cuba to be beyond the reach of the US courts.

From the beginning, the men — and boys — held there were held without rights, and although long legal struggles led to them eventually securing habeas corpus rights, Congress fought back. However, when their habeas rights were eventually gutted of all meaning, the responsibility lay with ideologically malignant appeals court judges rather than Congress.

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Abandoned in Guantánamo: Abdul Latif Nasser, Cleared for Release Three Years Ago, But Still Held

Guantánamo prisoner Abdul Latif Nasser, cleared for release from the prison over three years ago, but still held, and Camp 6, where he remains imprisoned with 23 other low-level prisoners.

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.

Over 17 and a half years since the prison at Guantánamo Bay opened, it is, sadly, rare for the mainstream US media — with the bold exception of Carol Rosenberg at the New York Times — to spend any time covering it, even though its continued existence remains a source of profound shame for anyone who cares about US claims that it is a nation founded on the rule of law.

Given the general lack of interest, it was encouraging that, a few weeks ago, ABC News reported on the unforgivable plight of Abdul Latif Nasser, a 54-year old Moroccan prisoner, to mark the third anniversary of his approval for release from the prison. Nasser is one of five of the remaining 40 prisoners who were approved for release by high-level US government review processes under President Obama, but who are still held.

In Nasser’s case, as I reported for Al-Jazeera in June 2017, this was because, although he was approved for release in June 2016 by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process that approved 38 prisoners for release from 2013 to 2016, the necessary paperwork from the Moroccan government didn’t reach the Obama administration until 22 days before Obama left office, and legislation passed by Republicans stipulated that Congress had to be informed 30 days before a prisoner was to be released, meaning that, for Nasser, as I described it, “the difference between freedom and continued incarceration was just eight days.”

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It’s Eight Years Since WikiLeaks Released the Hugely Important Guantánamo Files, Leaked by Chelsea Manning, On Which I Worked as a Media Partner

The logo for WikiLeaks’ release of the Guantánamo Files on April 25, 2011.

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.




 

Exactly eight years ago, on April 25, 2011, I wrote an article entitled, “WikiLeaks Reveals Secret Files on All Guantánamo Prisoners” (posted on my website as WikiLeaks Reveals Secret Guantánamo Files, Exposes Detention Policy as a Construct of Lies), for WikiLeaks, to accompany the first of 765 formerly classified military files on the Guantánamo prisoners — the Guantánamo Files — that the organization began releasing publicly that day. The files primarily revealed the extent to which the supposed evidence at Guantánamo largely consisted of statements made by unreliable witnesses, who told lies about their fellow prisoners, either because they were tortured or otherwise abused, or bribed with the promise of better living conditions.

I was working with WikiLeaks as a media partner for the release of the files, and I had written the introductory article linked to above in just a few hours of turbo-charged activity after midnight on April 25, 2011, as I had received notification from WikiLeaks that the files had also been leaked to the Guardian and the New York Times, who would be publishing them imminently.

WikiLeaks had previously become well-known — notorious, even — through its release, in April 2010, of “Collateral Murder“, a “classified US military video depicting the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad — including two Reuters news staff,” and its further releases, throughout 2010, with the Guardian and the New York Times and other newspapers, of hundreds of thousands of pages of classified US documents — war logs from the Afghan and Iraq wars, and US diplomatic cables from around the world. 

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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).

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.





 

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.”

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On the 17th Anniversary of the Opening of Guantánamo, Please Write to the 40 Men Still Held, Donald Trump’s “Forever Prisoners”

Eight of the prisoners still held at Guantanamo, all of whom are eligible for the Periodic Review Boards that have been rendered toothless under Donald Trump. Top row, from L to R: Omar al-Rammah, Moath al-Alwi, Haroon Gul and Ismael Ali Bakush. Bottom row, L to R: Abd al-Salam al-Hilah, Mohammed al-Qahtani, Saifullah Paracha and Guled Hassan Duran.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.




 

It’s a year since I last encouraged you to write to the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, to mark their first year of imprisonment under Donald Trump, and I’m asking you to do so again, to let them know that they have not been entirely forgotten.

I’ve been encouraging opponents of Guantánamo to write to the prisoners on a regular basis since June 2010, when I was first prompted to do so by two Muslim activist friends in the UK, who had initiated a project to get people to write to the prisoners still held at that time — 186 in total.

I repeated the letter-writing project in June 2011, and then did so again every six months or so until July 2015, with two further calls in 2016, the last being in the dying weeks of the Obama presidency. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo’s Periodic Review Boards: The Escape Route Shut Down by Donald Trump

Four of the Guantanamo prisoners currently going through the Periodic Review Board process. Clockwise from top left: Omar al-Rammah, Moath al-Alwi, Mohammed al-Qahtani and Abd al-Salam al-Hilah.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.




 

Anyone paying close attention to the prison at Guantánamo Bay will know that its continued existence, nearly 17 years after it first opened, is largely down to the success of some wildly inaccurate claims that were made about it when its malevolent business first began — claims that it held “the worst of the worst” terrorists, who were all captured on the battlefield.

In fact, as my research, and that of other researchers has shown, very few of the 779 men held by the US military at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002 can realistically be described as having had any meaningful involvement with al-Qaeda or the Taliban; perhaps just 3 percent, and certainly less than 5 percent. No one was captured on the battlefield, and the majority were either foot soldiers for the Taliban in an inter-Muslim civil war that predated 9/11, or civilians swept up in ill-advised dragnets. Many, if not most of those who ended up at Guantánamo were sold to the US by their Afghan and Pakistani allies for bounty payments, which averaged $5,000 a head, a huge amount of money in that part of the world.

Just 40 men are still held at Guantánamo, after George W. Bush released 532 men, and Barack Obama released 196. Nine men died, one was transferred to the US, to face a trial in which he was successfully prosecuted, and one more was reluctantly released by Donald Trump, or, rather, was transferred back to Saudi Arabia for ongoing imprisonment, as part of a plea deal negotiated in his military commission trial proceedings in 2014. 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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