Sunday, January 31, 2016

LGC Newsletter – January 2016



NEWS:
Guantánamo Bay:
The extralegal US-run prison camp at Guantánamo Bay has now been open longer under the administration of Barack Obama than it was under George Bush. 
Over January, 16 prisoners have been released – the largest number of transfers in one month under Obama – bringing the number of remaining prisoners to 91. As always, not all of the transfers have gone smoothly. The first transfers were on 6 January, of two Saudi-born Yemeni prisoners: Khalid al Dhuby, 34, who was cleared for release in 2006, and Mahmoud Omar Bin Atef, 36, who was cleared for release in 2009. As part of the deal, in return for US aid and cover by the US of their costs, Ghana agreed to take the two prisoners, and former Rwandan prisoners. The agreement is for two years and Ghanaian media has reported that the men have refugee status for that time. However, their move to the country has not been welcomed in many quarters.
The next prisoner to be released on 8 January was Fayiz Al-Kandari, the last Kuwaiti prisoner held at Guantánamo, who was cleared for release by the prisoner review board in 2015. He will have to undergo a rehabilitation programme before going home, but has been reunited with his family and other former prisoners.
Saudi prisoner, Muhammed Abd Al Rahman Awn Al-Shamran, who was also cleared by the prisoner review board last year, was released home on the fourteenth anniversary of Guantánamo opening, 11 January.
A few days later, 10 Yemenis were sent to Oman, which has agreed to settle them until the situation in Yemen is safe enough for them to return home.
On this same day, Barack Obama's plan to close Guantánamo was submitted to Congress. It has yet to be made public but is likely to involve transferring some prisoners to US mainland prison facilities and effectively continuing indefinite detention without charge. Nonetheless, it has been reported that his plans for transfer to the US mainland, which has been blocked for many years by Congress, and could take place through the use of executive action, may be illegal.
The last releases of January were on the 21st when Egyptian prisoner Tariq Mahmoud Ahmed Al Sawah was sent to Bosnia and Yemeni prisoner Abdul Aziz al-Swidi was sent to Montenegro. A third prisoner, Yemeni Mohammed Ali Abdullah Bwazir, refused to leave Guantánamo at the last minute if he was not going to be reunited with his family and would be sent to a country he does not know. His lawyer said that he is fearful of what will happen there. The country was not identified.
34 of the remaining prisoners are cleared for release and no schedule has been set for when there are likely to be any more transfers, either to home or third countries.

Two more prisoners have been cleared for release by the prisoner review board in January: Yemeni Zahir Hamdoun, 36, was the first to be cleared.
This was followed by the clearance of his compatriot Mustafa Abd al-Qawi Abd al-Aziz al-Shamiri, 37, who is reported to have been held for so long due to a case of mistaken identity. At his board hearing in December, allegations of him being a senior Al-Qaeda trainer were dismissed. This does not, however, explain why he was held for so long or continues to be held. His lawyers have said that he will go to any country that accepts him.
Three prisoners have come before the review board in January: Yemenis Majid Mahmud Adbu Ahmed and Yassim Qasim Mohammed Ismail Qasim, and Afghan Haji Hamidullah.

Former Guantánamo prisoner Younis Chekkouri, who was released home to Morocco in September 2015 where he has since been held in prison without charge, was due to have a hearing on 6 January. This hearing was put back to 26 January, and in a fourth delay, without any charges having been brought against Chekkouri, the judge has now put the hearing back to 9 February. His Moroccan lawyer claims that the accusations against him do not fall under Moroccan anti-terrorism laws.
On 29 January, former prisoner Omar Khadr had his bail conditions in Canada reduced to allow him to stay out past his midnight curfew for work or educational purposes, as he studies to become an emergency medical responder. Further issues will be discussed at a hearing next month. Khadr was released on bail in May 2015 as he appeals his military tribunal conviction in the US. The new Canadian government has been asked to drop an appeal against his bail status but it has not yet responded. http://edmontonjournal.com/news/national/edmonton-court-relaxes-omar-khadrs-bail-conditions

Since late December, new rules for psychologists from the American Psychological Association (APA) mean that they can no longer treat prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, only soldiers. This has meant that psychologists have been withdrawn from a large number of activities involving prisoners at the prison. However, the Pentagon has since asked for the use of psychologists to be reinstated and the rules to be relaxed.

Extraordinary Rendition:
Former British citizen Mahdi Hashi, a victim of extraordinary rendition, after he was kidnapped in Djibouti in 2012, who claims that he was tortured and abused with British and US knowledge when he “disappeared” before resurfacing months later in FBI custody, was sentenced to 9 years by a New York court on 29 January on charges of supporting the Al Shabaab militia group in Somalia, where he was born. Following his “disappearance”, he was stripped of his British nationality and an appeal is still pending before the UK courts.

LGC Activities:
The LGC marked the 14th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo Bay in 2002 with a candlelight vigil – “History in the Making” – outside the US Embassy. More than 100 people joined the action on a cold evening and demonstrators were joined by a number of former British national and resident prisoners, including Shaker Aamer and Moazzam Begg who spoke on the open mic. The names of the remaining 103 prisoners at the time were read out and other prisoner campaigners spoke as well and joined the demonstration. A full report can be read at: 

The February Shut Guantánamo demonstration is on Thursday 4 February at 12-1pm outside the US Embassy and 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner, Hyde Park (opposite Marble Arch). As well as being the first monthly demo of 2016, this event also marks the ninth anniversary of our regular demonstrations outside the US Embassy, calling for Guantánamo to close and in solidarity with the prisoners. Please join us if you can. For more details: https://www.facebook.com/events/1664483827101975/

The LGC (@shutguantanamo) is continuing to hold weekly #GitmObama Twitter storms to raise awareness about Guantánamo prisoners every Monday at 9pm GMT. A special Twitter storm was held on the 14th anniversary. A pastebin is available http://pastebin.com/zpx5F7ab which is updated weekly with the latest information and tweets to raise awareness about Guantánamo. Please join us online if you can!

2016 marks the 10th anniversary of the London Guantánamo Campaign! We’ve been busy in that time, campaigning for 8 British residents, other Guantánamo prisoners, against torture and other prisons in the so-called war on terror, and supporting other prisoner campaigns. You can read about our early days and unique campaigning methods here – the history of the LGC during the Bush years https://onesmallwindow.wordpress.com/2016/01/03/the-london-guantanamo-campaign-the-bush-years-2006-2009/ A further history of the LGC, under Obama will be available in March, when the LGC officially turns 10!

Monday, January 18, 2016

History in the Making: 14 years of Guantánamo Bay



As we have done every year since 2008, the London Guantánamo Campaign organised the main UK event to mark the anniversary of the opening of the US military-run Guantánamo Bay prison camp. As in recent years, it was one of the largest events worldwide, with possibly only a larger protest coordinated by a coalition of US organisations outside the White House in Washington DC. More than 100 people joined the London Guantánamo Campaign (LGC) on a very cold evening for a candlelight vigil, demonstrating the commitment to human rights of the British people and the desire to see Guantánamo closed even after all the British nationals and residents have returned.

Shaker Aamer lights candles at the candlelight vigil
Former prisoner Moazzam Begg
This year’s event, on the evening of Monday 11th January, entitled “History in the Making”, had a sense of urgency to it: as Guantánamo Bay enters the fifteenth year of its regime of torture and indefinite detention without trial, Barack Obama enters the final year of his second term as president of the United States. It is now six years since he promised to close Guantánamo by January 2010, in an executive decree he signed in one of his first acts as president. With less than one year left to go of his presidency, questions have been raised as to whether he can and will deliver on his many promises to close Guantánamo Bay.

Although there was good news on the day with the repatriation of Saudi Mohammad Abdul Rahman al Shumrani, one of 17 prisoners due to be released this month, the LGC is particularly concerned about the fate of those prisoners who, after 14 years, have not been cleared for release and have not been charged, as expressed in our media release. Obama’s plan appears to be not to close Guantánamo and end indefinite detention but to close the facility and transfer the remaining prisoners elsewhere. The LGC’s rejection of this proposal was made clear on our main banner for the protest: “Shut Guantanamo – Don’t Move It”.
The LGC is pleased to have been joined by a number of former British nationals and residents who were previously held at Guantánamo Bay. With the exception of Shaker Aamer, released in October 2015, all have joined LGC events in the past, but we have not pointed them out in the past, and did not point them out on this occasion, out of respect for their privacy. Former prisoners Moazzam Begg, who was released in 2005, and Shaker Aamer, in his first unmediated address to the public (video below), spoke at the vigil. It was an honour for the LGC to have these two former prisoners share their feelings and views on the 14th anniversary of Guantánamo with us, and to join us in standing in solidarity with the remaining prisoners.

Jean Lambert MEP
As an open mic event, there were no scheduled speakers. Contributions were also made by Jean Lambert, Green MEP for London, Sheikh Suliman Gani from Tooting Mosque, Lindsey German from the Stop The War Coalition, American peace activist Paul Polansky, John Clossick and Ray Silk from the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, and campaigners Hamja Ahsan, Peter Tatchell and Dr David Nichol. The event was compered by David Harrold from the LGC and Val Brown from the LGC also spoke about the case of Omar Khadr. 

The LGC was also joined by other prisoner support campaigns, including for Chelsea Manning, and a contribution was also made at the mic by the daughter of Munir Farooqi, a British man currently serving 4 life sentences for terrorism after being set up by undercover police officers. 

Other prisoners whose cases the LGC supports were mentioned, including Dr Aafia Siddiqui and Shawki Ahmed Omar. CND director Kate Hudson gave her apologies for not being able to join activists. Statements were also read out on behalf of Guantánamo lawyers Barry Wingard, whose client Fayiz Al-Kandari returned to Kuwait on 9 January, and Nancy Hollander, who provided a statement about her client, Guantánamo Diary author Mohamedou Ould Slahi (please see below).

As well as an open mic, Sheikh Suliman Gani led activists in reading out the names of the remaining 103 prisoners (there are currently 93) and calls for each of them to be set free. 

The London Guantánamo Campaign will be back outside the US Embassy on 4 February at 12pm for our first monthly Shut Guantánamo! demonstration of 2016, and the 9th anniversary of our regular protests demanding that Guantánamo closes, outside the Embassy.


Bernard Sullivan, who joined the anniversary vigil for the first time this year, spoke at the vigil and later shared his thoughts about it:

"Jottings on a Guantanamo Vigil"
I met Shaker Aamer today, and between his media interviews and speeches to the gathering outside the US embassy marking the 14th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo, had the opportunity to speak with him. I found an exceptional character, open, friendly, charismatic, and a motivational orator, who expressed a strong belief in one human race, without distinction of colour, religion or race. A living example of how the human spirit can not only survive the terrible ordeal that he was put through, but can grow enormously from it. He was overwhelmed by the fact that while incarcerated for years with nothing to do but sit in his 6 x 8 cell, many outside with jobs, families, children and many other responsibilities, had given up years of their time to campaign for him and his fellow detainees.
As an active supporter for the closure of Guantanamo of a mere three months standing, I found myself in awe of those around me, but determined to stand with them until the human rights hypocrisy that is Guantanamo is closed for good, and the many innocents held within, are truly free.
Only then, can the USA and its supporting allies begin to emerge from this darkest shadow of their own making, and try to restore the catastrophic loss of trust of countless people around the globe.”
The LGC thanks everyone who joined us and stood with us in solidarity with the prisoners still held at Guantánamo Bay.

Statement by Barry Wingard about his client Fayiz Al-Kandari who was released to Kuwait on Saturday 9 January:

“It has been a long fourteen year road to show that the United States Government had no actual evidence against Fayiz.

It should really come as no surprise, of the 779 men held in Cuba's most notorious prison, fewer than 15 will be given a kangaroo proceeding in the military commissions.  Almost all the guys getting trial "like" proceedings were brought to GTMO from CIA torture sites in 2006 to "scare up the place."

I look forward to seeing Fayiz and his family back in Kuwait where he should have been for the last fourteen years of his life.  I know Fayiz is too smart to hold a grudge as he would say "being angry at others gives them power over you, be strong and ignore those who seek to do you harm.  In that way you show you are stronger than them."
 
Well Fayiz, time to get on with the rest of our lives as we have both been freed from GTMO.  Time to find your wife and start your family my friend.  Let me be the first to welcome you back.”

Statement by Nancy Hollander about her client Mohamedou Ould Slahi, best-selling author, the last Mauritanian in Guantánamo and extraordinary rendition victim, who has yet to be cleared for release:

“I speak to you on behalf of Mohamedou Ould Slahi. I know he would want to thank everyone for your commitment to demand that Guantanamo be closed, that everyone who is not being prosecuted be sent home or to a third country and that that those facing prosecution be tried in a regular United States court with all the constitutional protections that apply to every person---citizen and alien---who is charged with crimes against the United States. Closing Guantanamo means closing it forever, not moving it to another location. Mohamedou Ould Slahi has been incarcerated by the United States for fourteen years. He is an innocent man who has never been charged with any crime. Although he was tortured, he remains unbroken. His dignity, humor and humanity are available for all to see in his memoir, Guantanamo Diary, now available in 21 countries and 19 languages. We will not cease our efforts until he is free. ”








Sheikh Suliman Gani with Shaker Aamer


Further media of this event:


Monday, January 11, 2016

History in the Making: Vigil to mark 14 years of Guantánamo, 6-8pm, 11 January 2016

https://www.facebook.com/events/1653637554884473/

Join us on 11 January 2016 for your last opportunity to send a strong message to Barack Obama to close Guantánamo on the anniversary of its opening!

MEDIA RELEASE: History in the Making: London Guantánamo Campaign to Mark Fourteenth Anniversary of Guantánamo Bay with Candlelight Vigil outside US Embassy, Monday 11 January 2016, 6-8pm

For immediate release: Monday 11 January 2016

The London Guantánamo Campaign [1] and human rights activists will gather for a candlelight vigil, History in the Making [2], outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, London, from 6-8pm, to mark the 14th anniversary of the opening of the Guantánamo Bay prison camp.

Activists will stand outside the US Embassy holding up letters spelling out: “Close Guantánamo” and will hold a candlelight vigil calling for Barack Obama to fulfil his promise to close the prison camp during his last year in office. 

Aisha Maniar, organiser from the London Guantánamo Campaign, says, "When Barack Obama became US president in 2009, he promised to close Guantánamo within one year. Now, with one year left of his term in office, there are still over 100 prisoners. Almost all are held without charge or trial after 14 years.

“While recent prisoner releases are welcome, most of these have been subject to inexplicable delay. This includes the release of British resident Shaker Aamer more than 8 years after he was cleared and the British Prime Minister sought his return.

“Obama no longer plans to end indefinite arbitrary detention for the remaining prisoners, and his plan to close Guantánamo merely involves displacing this extralegal regime, moving the prisoners elsewhere. This is extremely disappointing from a man who once made closing Guantánamo and restoring the rule of law one of his main pledges if he became president. None can be as disappointed as the remaining prisoners, who still have no guarantees they will ever be released or even know why they are held.” 



ENDS

NOTES TO EDITORS

1. The London Guantánamo Campaign was set up in 2006 and campaigns for justice for all prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, for the closure of this and other secret prisons, and an end to the practice of extraordinary rendition. http://londonguantanamocampaign.blogspot.com  

Since 2008, the London Guantánamo Campaign has each year been the sole organiser of the UK protest to mark the anniversary of Guantánamo Bay opening on 11 January 2002. The London Guantánamo Campaign has had no communication with We Stand With Shaker or Cage concerning the reported organisation of other events outside the US Embassy and is not liable for them. The annual protest is a public event and all are welcome.


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

LGC Newsletter – December 2015



British residents:
Shaker Aamer gave his first interviews to the media this month including an interview with the Daily Mail http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3357700/Guantanamo-Briton-Shaker-Aamer-relives-14-year-nightmare-savage-abuse-including-agony-hog-tied-45-minutes-time-joy-finally-seeing-family-again.html and a television interview with the BBC, in which he talked about his time in Guantánamo and how he is adapting back to normal life since release.

NEWS:
Guantánamo Bay:
The US administration has announced that 17 prisoners are scheduled to be released in January, with the first prisoners due to be released in the first week of 2016. The Kuwaiti parliament has confirmed that a delegation will visit Guantánamo on 5 January to repatriate the last Kuwaiti prisoner Fayiz Al-Kandari, who was cleared for release a few months ago. The releases will bring the prison population down to 90. Currently, 48 prisoners have been cleared for release. A further three prisoners are due to appear before the periodic review board to determine whether they can released as well. Most prisoners who have appeared before the board since it recommenced work in late 2013 have been cleared. The first review will take place on 12 January for Afghan prisoner Haji Hamidullah.
A special report by Reuters has claimed that the Pentagon has deliberately thwarted Obama’s plan to close Guantánamo and delay prisoner releases. However, this does not absolve Barack Obama of his ultimate responsibility to take action to close Guantánamo Bay, as he has promised since 2008. Nonetheless, during a visit to San Bernardino, prior to leaving for his Christmas holidays, Barack Obama yet again affirmed his commitment to close Guantánamo and to go through with his plan to close the facility (and potentially not end indefinite detention) by possibly using executive action if Congress fails to approve it.

On 1 December, Yemeni prisoner, Mustafa Al-Shamiri, 37, appeared before the review board to consider whether he can be cleared for release. During the review, it emerged that he had been wrongly profiled by the US military as an al-Qaida facilitator. The assessment had claimed he had fought in Bosnia in 1995, even though he would have been 16 or 17 at the time. It appears that his name was confused with that of other people. He has thus been held on false premises, like most of the other prisoners, since 2002. A decision on his status has yet to be made.
Another Yemeni ‘forever’ prisoner Zahir Hamdoun, 36, had his review board hearing on 7 December, during which his lawyers said that he realized that it was not possible for him to return to Yemen, and so if he is allowed to be released to a third country, they are prepared to offer him full support, including financial assistance, mental health care, etc. He was captured in Pakistan and handed over to the US in February 2002. The US claims he had been fighting for the Taleban and had run away. It is likely he was sold to the US by the Pakistani military. http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/guantanamo/article48576320.html

On 1st December, the case of Ali Hamza Al-Bahlul, who was convicted by a military tribunal in 2008 and has since had his conviction overturned twice, had his case heard by the federal court of appeals for the third time, with the US government bringing new arguments to try to make the conviction stand. The conviction was originally overturned over 3 years ago and those decisions have led to other convictions being successfully appealed. However, if the US government loses this case again, it will strongly undermine the already weak premise of military commissions, and ultimately detention, at Guantánamo Bay. Some of the legal arguments are discussed here:

Former Yemeni prisoner, Nasser El-Bahri, in his 40s, died in Yemen on 28 December following a long illness, his family has reported. He was released from Guantánamo without charge in 2008. The US military claims he was Osama Bin Laden’s bodyguard.
 
In June, the last Mauritanian prisoner in Guantánamo and best-selling author of  Guantánamo Diary Mohamedou Ould Salahi filed an application in the courts to try to compel the government to give him an immediate periodic review board hearing for his case to be reviewed and to consider whether he can be cleared for release. The government rejected the application and on 18 December the court rejected it too, claiming that it did not have the jurisdiction to order the government to carry out an immediate review and did not consider the US government to be impeding Ould Slahi’s access to his legal papers.

The latest pre-trial hearing in the case of 5 men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks in 2001 took place on 8-11 December, the first military tribunal hearing for almost 10 months. During the hearing, lawyers for the men presented a motion for the case to be dismissed given how slowly it is progressing – an actual trial is unlikely to take place until possibly 2020 – and as statements made by the US president and his administration make it highly unlikely that the men will get a fair trial and have already prejudiced the proceedings. Other issues considered were the use of female guards.

Extraordinary Rendition:
Two US citizens convicted in Italy for their role in the 2003 rendition to torture of Abu Omar, a Milan imam, have received a partial pardon from the Italian president. Robert Seldon Lady, a former CIA agent, had his 9-year sentence reduced to 7 years and Betnie Madero had her 6-year sentence effectively wiped out. The sentences against 26 US citizens were made in absentia and in 2013 Lady was arrested briefly in Panama pending extradition proceedings by Italy. The ruling means that Lady and the other 24 whose convictions stand cannot travel to Europe or they will be extradited to Italy to serve their sentence. Following the Panama incident, Lady had asked for a pardon. Abu Omar and his wife currently have a case before the European Court of Human Rights related to Italy’s complicity in human rights abuses.

On 1st December, Human Rights Watch marked the first anniversary of the US Senate’s report into CIA torture with the publication of a report, No More Excuses, setting out information about the torture report and a roadmap of what states must do not to ensure accountability and prosecutions for those involved.

LGC Activities:
The final Shut Guantánamo demonstration for 2015 was on Thursday 3 December at 12-1pm outside the US Embassy, Grosvenor Sq and 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner, Hyde Park, Marble Arch. There is no monthly demonstration in January. Our next demonstration in February will mark 9 years of this action.

On 8 December, the LGC marked the first anniversary of the partial publication of the US Senate’s CIA Torture Report in December 2014 with a panel discussion focusing on the UK’s involvement and the personal, community and military ramifications of the use of torture. We were joined by Head of Doctors at Freedom from Torture Dr Juliet Cohen and Veterans for Peace UK coordinator Ben Griffin who both made excellent contributions A report of the meeting can be read here: http://londonguantanamocampaign.blogspot.co.uk/2015/12/we-tortured-some-folks-too-event-report.html  

Please join us on 11 January to mark 14 years of Guantánamo at our vigil “History in the Making” at 6-8pm outside the US Embassy. We will need volunteers on the day so please let us know if you can help. This is a candlelight vigil with an open mic so contributions –speeches, poems, songs – that are relevant are welcome. All are welcome. Please spread the word: http://londonguantanamocampaign.blogspot.co.uk/2015/12/history-in-making-vigil-to-mark-14_14.html and https://www.facebook.com/events/1653637554884473/