Andy Worthington and Omar Deghayes Discuss Aafia Siddiqui in East London, Saturday February 23, 2013

The power of Islamophobia, it seems, is such that when a tabloid newspaper — the Daily Star — published an article with the headline “Mosque terror doc fundraiser,” claiming that “Britain’s biggest mosque is under investigation after it scheduled a fundraising event for a convicted would-be killer,” it led to the event being moved.

The mosque in question was the East London Mosque, in Whitechapel, and the alleged investigation was by the Charity Commission. The Star reported that the Charity Commission “said it had started a probe into the mosque,” and had “not yet launched a full investigation,” but was “looking into the issue.” That sounds very vague, but it was enough to get the mosque jumpy, and the event has, as a result, been moved to another venue in Whitechapel.

As for the “fundraising event for a convicted would-be killer,” another way of putting it would be that the Justice for Aafia Coalition (also see here) is putting on a fundraising event for a US-educated Pakistani neuroscientist who disappeared for nearly five and a half years, from March 2003 to July 2008, when, they contend, she was kidnapped and she and two of her three children were held in secret prisons run by or for the CIA and the US government. The third child, a baby at the time of her disappearance, may, it appears, have been shot and killed at the time of Dr. Siddiqui’s kidnapping. Read the rest of this entry »

America’s Extradition Problem

Not content with having the largest domestic prison population in the world, both in numbers and as a percentage of the total population, the US also imports prisoners from other countries, at vast expense.

Last week, five men were extradited to the US from the UK to face charges relating to their alleged involvement with terrorism. The men’s extradition was supposed to have been made into a straightforward matter by the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who, in 2003, approved the US-UK Extradition Treaty, which purportedly allows prisoners to be extradited without the need for any evidence to be provided.

However, there have been sustained legal challenges to the treaty, with the result that, of the five men extradited last week, two British nationals, Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan, had been held without charge or trial in the UK for eight and six years respectively, and two foreign nationals, Adel Abdel Bary and Khaled al-Fawwaz, had been held without charge or trial since 1998, as their lawyers tried to prevent their extradition. The fifth man, Abu Hamza al-Masri, was the only one to have been imprisoned in the UK after a trial. Convicted in 2006, he was given a seven-year sentence. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: The Great Extradition Swindle

Last Monday, the long struggle of five alleged “terror suspects” against their extradition to the US — under the much-criticised US-UK Extradition Treaty of 2003 — was struck an apparently fatal blow when the European Court of Human Rights refused to hear an appeal they had submitted after the Court first approved their extradition in April. The five men are Babar Ahmad, Syed Talha Ahsan, Mustafa Kamel Mustafa (better known as Abu Hamza al-Masri), Khaled al-Fawwaz and Adel Abdel Bary.

The decision is a blow to human rights defenders, who rightly believe that conditions in US Supermax prisons, where the men would end up, constitute torture, and that they have no chance of receiving a fair trial, as almost all trials involving Muslims accused of terrorism, or providing support to terrorism, end in convictions. It also ignores criticism of the treaty by British MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee, who, in March, criticised the Home Office for “failing to publish the evidence” that lay behind a review of the treaty, undertaken by Sir Scott Baker for the home secretary Teresa May, which, as the Independent put it, found that “it was balanced and there was no basis to see it as ‘unfair or oppressive.'” In contrast, the committee said it had “‘serious misgivings’ about some aspects of the US-UK arrangements and recommended the Government renegotiate the treaty.”

In response to the ruling, two of the men, Abu Hamza and Khaled al-Fawwaz, have launched immediate legal challenges, and in the cases of two others, Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan, a businessman, Karl Watkin, has launched a private prosecution to try to prevent their extradition, arguing that they should be tried in the UK because their alleged crime — hosting a pro-jihad website — took place in Britain. The US government argues that it has the right to try the two men, because one of the servers was located in the US. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Andy Worthington Discusses the Horrors of Guantánamo at Aafia Siddiqui Protest in London

On Sunday, in torrential rain, I cut short a dry afternoon in the Catford Bridge Tavern — a formerly notoriously rough pub reborn after its recent takeover by the Antic group, which is spacious, friendly, well-decorated, and which also does excellent food, including Sunday roasts — to take my bike on the train to Charing Cross, and, from there, to cycle up to Piccadilly and through Mayfair to Grosvenor Square, to speak at a protest outside the US Embassy to mark the second anniversary of the sentencing, in a court in New York, of Aafia Siddiqui.

The story of Aafia Siddiqui, which I have been covering for many years, remains one of the most disturbing in the whole of the Bush administration’s brutal “war on terror.” A Pakistani neuroscientist, she is currently two years into a horrendously unjust 86 year sentence in a prison hospital in Texas for allegedly having tried and failed, in August 2008, to shoot a number of US soldiers who were holding her in Ghazni, Afghanistan. This followed her resurfacing after a mysterious five and a half year absence, in which many people believe she was held in one or more secret CIA “black sites,” where she was severely abused and lost her mind.

Although the turnout for the protest, organised by the Justice for Aafia Coalition, was only moderate, numbers were swelled by the many thousands of people who had turned up for a protest about the terrible racist and Islamophobic video, “The Innocence of Muslims,” which, to my mind, like all examples of bigotry, is best ignored, to avoid providing the oxygen of publicity to those peddling such filth. However, the organisers of the Aafia Siddiqui protest were presented with an excellent opportunity to inform numerous people about the plight of Dr. Siddiqui, which was obviously useful. Read the rest of this entry »

Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad: “Extradition” Film Screenings in London, and an Appeal to the European Court of Human Rights

Postscript July 6: I have just been informed that Talha and Babar’s lawyers have asked people NOT to send letters to the European Court of Human Rights, as they are submitting their own formal appeal. New campaigning tools will be announced soon.

As part of the campaign to prevent the extradition to the US of Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad — who, along with others, including Richard O’Dwyer and Gary McKinnon — face extradition to the US under the terms of the much-criticised US-UK Extradition Treaty, Talha’s brother Hamja has been working flat-out to promote a new documentary film, “Extradition,” which tells the stories of his brother and of Babar Ahmad, with screenings up and down the country. Directed by Turab Shah, the film features interviews with the human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce, the playwright Avaes Mohammad, the fathers of Babar and Talha, and Talha’s brother Hamja, all framed by Talha’s prison poetry.

On Wednesday July 4, and later in the month, I will be taking part in Q&A sessions following screenings in London, and I also want to alert readers in the London area to other screenings this week, on Friday July 6 and Saturday July 7.

As I explained in an article two weeks ago, promoting a meeting in the House of Commons to discuss the US-UK Extradition Treaty, it has been “a source of consternation since its establishment in 2003, as it allows British citizens to be extradited to the US for the flimsiest of reasons, where they will face a legal system that is, in many ways, out of control, in which cases that involve activities that can be described as providing material support for terrorism, for example, attract horrendously long sentences.” Read the rest of this entry »

Stop the Extradition to the US of Talha Ahsan, Babar Ahmad, Gary McKinnon and Richard O’Dwyer

Tomorrow, Wednesday, June 20, 2012, there is a meeting in the House of Commons to discuss the US-UK Extradition Treaty, a source of consternation since its establishment in 2003, as it allows British citizens to be extradited to the US for the flimsiest of reasons, where they will face a legal system that is, in many ways, out of control, in which cases that involve activities that can be described as providing material support for terrorism, for example, attract horrendously long sentences.

The meeting, in Committee Room 10, begins at 6 pm, and lasts until 8 pm, and features the following speakers:

Caroline Lucas MP
John Hemming MP
Sadiq Khan MP (Shadow Justice Secretary)
Gareth Peirce
Victoria Brittain
David Bermingham (Natwest Three)
Sir Iqbal Sacranie
Ashfaq Ahmad

Those facing extradition, whose cases will be discussed, are Talha Ahsan, Babar Ahmad, Gary McKinnon and Richard O’Dwyer. I discussed their cases back in April, after Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad had their appeal to the European Court of Human Rights turned down, and I recommend that article for anyone who wants to know more. Briefly, however, none of the men have ever visited the US, and summaries of their cases are as follows: Talha Ahsan is a poet and writer with Asperger’s syndrome who has been detained for six years without charge or trial; Babar Ahmad has been detained without charge or trial for eight years, longer than any other British citizen in modern British history (and both men are accused of alleged crimes involving web-based militant activity); Gary McKinnon, who also has Asperger’s Syndrome, is accused of hacking into US agency websites ten years ago and has been fighting extradition ever since; and Richard O’Dwyer is accused of breaching US copyright laws, despite the fact that what he is accused of does not constitute a crime in the UK. Read the rest of this entry »

How A Comment on My Website Led Jason Leopold to Discover the Story of Abu Zubaydah’s Brother, Living in the US

On Christmas Day 2008, a comment by someone identifying themselves as Hesham Abu Zubaydah was submitted on an article I had written many months earlier, entitled, The Insignificance and Insanity of Abu Zubaydah: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Confirms FBI’s Doubts. This was the first of many articles I have written explaining how Abu Zubaydah, the “high-value detainee” for whom the Bush administration’s torture program was specifically developed, was not a senior al-Qaeda operative, as the administration claimed, but was instead the mentally damaged gatekeeper of a training camp, Khaldan, that was independent of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.

The comment read, “Yes that is my brother and I live in Oregon. Do you think I should have been locked away for 2 years with no charges for a act of a sibling? I am the younger brother of Zayn [Abu Zubydah’s real name, Zayn al-Abidin Mohamed Husayn] and I live in the USA. Tell me what you think.”

In response, from what I recall, I responded to the comment, but did not hear anything back. With hindsight, I should have pursued it further, but I’m glad to note that, eventually, my friend and colleague Jason Leopold stumbled across the comment, tracked down Hesham in Florida, where he lives with his wife Jody, and began a 14-month investigation that resulted in the publication, yesterday, of EXCLUSIVE: From Hopeful Immigrant to FBI Informant – the Inside Story of the Other Abu Zubaidah, a 15,000-word article by Jason that was published by Truthout, where he is the lead investigative reporter, and where I am an occasional contributor. Read the rest of this entry »

Two Years Since His Arrest, Bradley Manning’s Lawyers Accuse US Government of Extreme Secrecy, Worse than at Guantánamo

Two years and two days since his arrest in Iraq on May 26, 2010, Pfc. Bradley Manning still awaits the start of his court-martial, as his lawyers and other sympathizers try to take the government to task for its secrecy regarding the 24-year old, who faces 22 charges, including “aiding the enemy,” a charge that, in theory, carries the death penalty, although prosecutors have said that they will not be pressing for his execution, if he is convicted.

Manning, a former US intelligence analyst, is the alleged whistleblower responsible for leaking thousands of classified US government documents to WikiLeaks, dealing with the Afghan and Iraq wars, and the prisoners in Guantánamo, as well as hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables. Held in damaging isolation for the first eleven months of his detention — in Kuwait and then at a military brig in Quantico, Virginia, he was then moved — after pressure was exerted by his many supporters, and by legal experts — to the Midwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he remains. His Article 32 hearing, preparing the way for his trial, took place last December, and he was referred to a general court-martial by the judge, Lt. Col. Paul Almanza. He was arraigned on February 23 this year, when he declined to enter a plea.

Now, as the Guardian reported last week, with hearings taking place prior to his court-martial, possibly in August, a coalition of lawyers and media outlets, led by the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, “has petitioned the Army court of criminal appeals calling for the court-martial against Manning to be opened up to the press and public,” claiming that his military trial “is being conducted amid far more secrecy than even the prosecution of the alleged 9/11 plotters in Guantánamo.” Read the rest of this entry »

John Yoo: A Fugitive from Justice, With the Help of the US Courts, in the Torture of Jose Padilla

Three weeks ago, Jose Padilla, a US citizen and a notorious victim of torture by representatives of his own government, had a courtroom door shut firmly in his face, when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in California, reversed a lower court decision (PDF) allowing Padilla — held as an “enemy combatant” in a military brig on the US mainland from 2002 to 2005, and isolated and tortured so severely that he lost his mind — to pursue a lawsuit against John Yoo.

A law professor at UC Berkeley, Yoo worked for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) in the early years of the “war on terror,” as part of Dick Cheney’s inner circle of lawyers pushing to eradicate existing laws preventing arbitary detention and torture, and it was for the OLC — which is supposed to provide impartial legal advice to the executive branch — that he wrote a notorious series of memos — the “torture memos” — in which he cynically attempted to redefine torture so that it could be used by the CIA. This was a decision that not only led to the CIA torturing prisoners in its own secret prisons, in Thailand, Poland, Romania, Lithuania and Morocco, but also infected the whole of the US military. Not uncoincidentally, Yoo’s boss at the OLC was Jay S. Bybee, who signed off on the “torture memos,” and is now a judge on — wait for it! — the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Analyzing this scandalous denial of justice (and also the D.C. Circuit Court’s equally unjust interventions to gut habeas corpus of all meaning for the Guantanamo prisoners, most recently in the case of Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a Yemeni whose story I covered here), Scott Horton of Harper’s Magazine wrote a powerful article in which, after noting that “one of the lasting challenges to America’s federal judiciary will be addressing American complicity in the tortures and disappearances of the past ten years,” he explained that Padilla v. Yoo and Latif v. Obama “show us how judicial panels are tackling these issues: by shielding federal officials and their contractors from liability, and even by glorifying the fruits of their dark arts. In the process, legal prohibitions on torture are being destroyed through secrecy and legal sleight of hand, and our justice system is being distorted and undermined.” Read the rest of this entry »

Tarek Mehanna’s Powerful Statement As He Received a 17-Year Sentence Despite Having Harmed No One

What a disgrace. On Thursday, Tarek Mehanna, a 29-year old pharmacist from Sudbury, Massachusetts, was sentenced to 17 and half years in prison, after being found guilty in December on seven charges, including “providing material support to terrorists,” conspiracy to kill in a foreign country and lying to law enforcement officers. Perhaps that sounds appropriate, but as Nancy Murray of the ACLU explained in an article for the Boston Globe, the extent of his involvement in “terrorism” was that he had “emailed friends, downloaded videos, translated and posted documents on the web, and traveled to and from Yemen in 2004.”

She continued, “No evidence was presented in court directly linking him to a terrorist group. He never hatched a plot — indeed, he objected when a friend (who went on to become a government informer and has never been charged with anything) proposed plans to stage violent attacks within the United States. He never had a weapon.” Although Mehanna did lie to the FBI, there was no justification for prosecutor Aloke Chakravarty to stress the “gravity” of Mehanna’s offences, but it fitted — and fits — a pattern of demonizing Muslims, even when there are first amendment issues, involving free speech, even when there is evidence of dubious FBI activity, and even when it is undisputed that Tehanna never raised arms against anyone, and never believed that it was just or appropriate to attack any American on US soil.

According to Aloke Chakravarty, however, over ten years ago Tarek Mehanna “‘began to radicalize’” and to radicalize others to ‘visit violence’ on Americans,” The prosecutor also alleged that, although Mehanna “failed in his efforts to find a terrorist training camp when he visited Yemen in 2004, he found his niche … serving as the ‘media wing’ of al-Qaeda, translating documents, and sharing videos.”

In contrast, defense attorney Jay Carney pointed out that Mehanna was in fact being “punished for activity protected by the First Amendment, for translating documents freely available in Arabic on the Internet and for his refusal to be an informant.” Carney “asked the judge to focus on ‘what the defendant did and did not do’ — he went to Yemen for one week eight years ago. He refused to go to Iraq with the friend whom the government later enlisted as an informer. He was under close FBI scrutiny for more than eight years — if he was so dangerous, why did the FBI wait so long to arrest him?” 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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