COVID-19: Institutional Inertia, the Need for Vision, and the Collapse of the US and the UK

Donald Trump and Boris Johnson both wearing masks as protection against the coronavirus COVID-19. Trump wore a mask in public for thew first time just a month ago, having previously said that he would not do so. The day before, Johnson, who is rarely seen at all, wore a mask for the first time in public while visiting businesses in his Uxbridge constituency.

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Six months since the arrival of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, prompted an unprecedented lockdown on social and economic activity, a veneer of normality has been resumed, although it remains an uneasy time. Pubs and restaurants are open, cars once more fill the streets, turning the taste of the air to one of petrol after months without it, and zombie shoppers once more return to high streets and shopping malls to buy clothing produced in factories — mostly in the “developing world” — that involves economic exploitation of the unseen, and nothing short of environmental destruction, as these factories kill off rivers with their noxious chemicals.

As I see on an almost daily basis, however, on my bike rides into the West End and the City of London to take photos for my ongoing photo-journalism project ‘The State of London’, the veneer is very thin. Although people have been returning to the West End since June 15, when “non-essential” shops were allowed to to reopen, the numbers are down, and massively so.

As I explained in my most recent COVID-related article, COVID-19: Workers and Employers Show No Great Enthusiasm for Returning to the Office to Revive “Business As Usual”, 5.1m people visited the West End in the first full month of the post-lockdown re-opening of retail outlets, but that was 73% down year-on-year, and will not enable businesses to survive unless landlords also write off 73% of their rents. If they do, the virus will have succeeded in denting the wealth of the rich; if they don’t, the West End will soon be a wasteland of shuttered shops, because however much some people are enjoying al fresco street dining in pedestrianised streets in Soho, there is an achingly huge financial hole where the tourists and office workers used to be.

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On the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, Donald Trump is Holding Children in Detention Centers in Circumstances Comparable to “Torture Facilities”

Migrants outside a makeshift encampment at the US Border Patrol facility in McAllen, Texas, May 15, 2019 (Photo: Loren Elliott/Reuters).

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Tomorrow is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, which, I was slightly shocked to realize, I’ve been writing about most years since 2007 — see my reports from 2009, 2010 (and here), 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2018.

When it first took place on June 26, 1998, 21 years ago, it was to mark the 11th anniversary of the date in 1987 when the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the UN Convention Against Torture), which I described last year as “an enormous breakthrough in the global moral struggle against the use of torture,” came into effect. As I also explained, June 26 “also marks the date in 1945 when the UN Charter, the founding document of the United Nations, was signed by 50 of the 51 original member countries (Poland signed it two months later).”

For most of the last 12 years, I have focused on the need for the US to be held accountable for the torture it inflicted, in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011, on prisoners rounded up and tortured in CIA “black sites” around the world, as well as the torture inflicted on prisoners in Guantánamo, in Bagram and numerous other facilities in Afghanistan, and in Iraq, where the use of torture was rife, even though George W. Bush pretended that, unlike in all the other places mentioned above, prisoners were protected by the Geneva Conventions.

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“America’s Shame,” Rolling Stone’s Detailed – and Damning – Article About Guantánamo

Prisoners regarded as "compliant" sharing communal facilities inside Guantanamo's Camp Six (Photo: JTF GTMO Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Elisha Dawkins).As all eyes are focused on Iowa, on the first caucus of this year’s Presidential election race, I thought I’d cross-post an interesting article about Guantánamo that was recently published in Rolling Stone, written by Janet Reitman. This is a long and detailed article, taking as its springboard a visit to one of the pre-trial hearings in Guantánamo’s military commissions, the alternative trial system set up for the “war on terror,” at the particular instigation of Dick Cheney and his legal adviser David Addington, which seems able only to demonstrate, in its glacially slow proceedings, that it is unable to deliver justice.

I confess that, in recent years, I have rather taken my eye off the military commissions, although I commend those who still visit Guantánamo to write about them, chief amongst whom is Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald. I put together a detailed list of who has been charged — plus the eight convictions and the four verdicts that have subsequently been overturned — two years ago, and in that article I stated:

I’ve been covering the commissions since 2006, and I have never found that they have established any kind of legitimacy, compared to federal courts, where crimes should be tried. This conclusion has only been strengthened in recent years, as conservative appeals court judges in Washington D.C. have overturned two of the eight convictions on the basis that they were for war crimes that were invented by Congress rather than being internationally recognized.

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Tariq Ba Odah, Hunger Strikes, and Why the Obama Administration Must Stop Challenging Guantánamo Prisoners in Court

Members of the campaigning group Witness Against Torture hold up a banner featuring an image of Tariq Ba Odah outside the White House in June 2015 (Photo: Matt Daloisio via Flickr).In June, I wrote an article, “Skeletal, 75-Pound Guantánamo Hunger Striker Tariq Ba Odah Seeks Release; Medical Experts Fear For His Life,” about the desperate plight of Tariq Ba Odah, a Guantánamo prisoner who has been on a hunger strike since 2007 and is at risk of death. His weight has dropped to just 74.5 pounds, and yet the government does not even claim that it wants to continue holding him. Over five and a half years ago, in January 2010, the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established when he took office in 2009 to review the cases of all the prisoners still held at that time, concluded that he should no longer be held.

The task force approved 156 men for release, although Tariq was one of 30 placed in a category invented by the task force — “conditional detention,” made dependent on a perception that the security situation in Yemen had improved or “an appropriate rehabilitation program or third- country resettlement option becomes available,” as his lawyers described it.

Collectively, the whole of the US establishment has — with one exception — refused to repatriate any Yemenis approved for release since January 2010 (after a foiled terror plot was revealed to have been hatched in Yemen), although, since last November, the administration has been finding third countries willing to offer new homes to Yemenis approve for transfer — in part became of persistent pressure from campaigning groups. 18 Yemenis have so far been found homes in third countries — in Georgia, Slovakia, Kazakhstan, Estonia and Oman — so all that now ought to prevent Tariq Ba Odah’s release is if the US government proves unable to find a third country prepared to offer him a new home. 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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